Keeping to his traditional formula, Mark Ronson’s new album, Uptown Special ,provides delightful renditions of classic genres and re-imagines them for the modern music industry. Whilst the hit ‘Uptown Funk’ has grabbed all the headlines, it would be a shame not to give credit to Ronson for the entirety of his work, which works well to capture an older listener’s tastes, and will hopefully encourage some younger ones to check out a classic period in musical history.
The old and new combination can be observed immediately, with the first track, ‘Uptown’s First Finale’, seeing Stevie Wonder and Miike Snow’s singer Andrew Wyatt combine. Whilst this short track is essentially just an intro with some sound effects, a harmonica solo and thirty seconds of vocal work, the track reflects what Ronson has envisioned to do with the album.
The early stages of the album work primarily with soul and funk tracks and are great for those looking to find the influences behind modern of hip hop. Instrumentally speaking, ‘Feel Right’ is undoubtedly a tribute to James Brown, and the title is definitely a nod to him. This however, is where the similarities end between this and one of the godfathers of Motown, with the addition of Mystikal. It’s fairly hard to imagine James Brown rapping the lines “Feel good in this motherfucker, my whole hood in this motherfucker, and we gon’ rock this motherfucker all night.” Ultimately, I haven’t heard anything from Mystikal since ‘Shake Ya Ass’ and the dude has lost absolutely nothing.
I’ve attempted to gloss over ‘Uptown Funk’ as, let’s be honest, we all know how good the Bruno Mars Christmas hit was. It’s been in the UK chart for five weeks now and it doesn’t look like it’s going to budge for a while. Easily the biggest feel good hit since ‘Happy’.
After numerous listens, I’ve found that what makes ‘Uptown Special’ such a strong album is that Ronson has chosen a very eclectic collection of artists that he believes would work on the album, rather than names to boost sales (except maybe Bruno Mars). For ‘I Can’t Lose’, Ronson brings in a relatively unknown singer, Keyonne Starr. This girl shows real promise and the track itself has a Chaka Khan vibe going for it. Later, we are also introduced to Jeff Bhasker, who is already well known in the charts, owing to his work with the biggest names such as Rihanna, Jay-Z, Beyonce and Kanye.
Another artist Mark Ronson utilises throughout the album is Tame Impala’s lead singer Kevin Parker. His first track, ‘Summer Breaking’, has a real ’60s feel to it, not too dissimilar to Dusty Springfield’s single ‘Spooky’. The pair reunite again later, on the soulful and smooth ‘Leaving Los Feliz’ and the powerful ‘Daffodils’. The latter of these tracks reflects the development of music in the last 40 years excellently, whilst staying tasteful and still danceable.
We see in the beginning a playful and funky bass line that continuously getting heavier and quicker, seeing the track become something far more familiar to Tame Impala’s current material. The addition of Parker is a fantastic move by Ronson, with singer seemingly in his element, despite being far from the psychedelic distorted sound of his usual band for most of the tracks.
Another artist used sparingly is Andrew Wyatt, who lends his vocal talents to the intro, as well as ‘Crack In The Pearl’ Parts I & II and ‘Heavy And Rolling’. The first part of ‘Crack In The Pearl’ is almost ballad-esque, comparable to the likes of Diana Ross and Lionel Ritchie’s ‘Endless Love’. In the second part, we see Stevie Wonder and Jeff Bhasker return for a final jam. The end product is a classic track that that should be coming from a vinyl, not my computer.
It should be seen that Ronson’s latest work is a monumental success and a healthy dose of history for those not too familiar with some classic genres. It’s not likely that there’ll be chart more successes like ‘Uptown Funk’ with this album, but that’s not its purpose and it’s unlikely to deter Mark from doing what he does best, tinkering and reinventing great music.
Uptown Special is out January 19th via Columbia.