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Album review | Pop

Bruno Mars offers romance, reggae, and raunch in latest

Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Sounds like Bruno Mars is trying to rough up his image a bit on his strong, if sometimes oddly lyrically aggressive, second album.

The affable, unabashed romantic crooner of “Grenade” and “Just the Way You Are” remains in tunes like the gorgeous, regret-filled piano ballad “When I Was Your Man” and the retro-soul closer “If I Knew.”

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The lover of low-rent reggae jams returns in the breezy “Show Me.” And his dance-pop instincts remain solid on tunes like the wistful “Moonshine” and the disco strutter “Money Make Her Smile.”

That last song, however, is one of several with overtly sexual imagery and of a couple that fixate on a gold digger, as does the noir-ish, pulsating murder-in-mind jam “Natalie,” co-written by “Rolling in the Deep” coauthor Paul Epworth in similarly urgent fashion. It is simultaneously chilling and catchy as Mars sings in the voice of a protagonist willing to do time for offing the titular woman who did him wrong and is “probably out there thinking it’s funny.”

A tamer, happier character exults, “Your sex takes me to paradise,” on the fidgety pop jam “Locked Out of Heaven,” but a more carnal image emerges when he sings of “making love like gorillas” (and not always using the phrase “making love”) on “Gorilla.” The R-rated sex jam is raunchy in a way that’s almost comical — it’s like his own “Darling Nikki” — but the track is seductive and hard to resist. (Out Tuesday)

ESSENTIAL “Natalie”

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