Mark Ronson: Uptown Special
Alternative & IndieJazz & Blues...
It’s safe to say that Mark Ronson is one of the most prolific producers in music today. Having worked with artists like Amy Winehouse, Duran Duran, Black Lips, Nas and even Jimmy Fallon, Ronson has a catalogue that is as wide as it is deep, and he attempts to add to it with his latest release, Uptown Special. Ronson continues his tradition of working with the best and brightest, with collaborators such as Bruno Mars, Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, Mystikal and even opening with a harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder himself.
After Wonder’s opener, with vocals provided by Andrew Wyatt, Ronson moves into the sunny lounge-esque 'Summer Breaking', with vocals provided by Parker. The song provokes minor flashbacks to 'Copacabana' by Barry Manilow, and wouldn’t seem out of place in a happier version of Scarface. The tune verges on cheesy at some points, but the sparse accents of super fuzzy guitar adds an element of grit to what is otherwise a pretty forgettable song.
In what is as rather sudden and jarring change of pace, the song moves to the Mystikal-featuring ‘Feel Right’ with Bruno Mars pulling double duty as the hype-man. The music is old-school funk through and through, and Mystikal’s gruff rapping fits in perfectly. The horn sections add a bright accent to the bridge and chorus, and the backing vocals in the chorus hark back to the 60s perfectly, but one wishes that there was a better build up. Perhaps this song would have fit better later into the album.
The two singles, ‘Uptown Funk’ featuring Bruno Mars and ‘Daffodils’ featuring Kevin Parker, differ rather heavily. ‘Uptown Funk’ seems to be a stage in Bruno Mars’ slow attempted transition into becoming Michael Jackson, and is a funk song through-and-through. Nevertheless, it is undeniably catchy and Mars’ natural charisma shines through impressively. ‘Daffodils’, despite having definite funk and old-school pop elements, feels decidedly more modern. Due to the unnatural reverb on Parker’s signature vocal style, this feels more like “Tame Impala Does Funk” than a Mark Ronson song. While it is still a very good song, it feels a bit out of place on this particular record.
The rest of the album is competently produced and enjoyable, if not rather forgettable. ‘In Case of Fire’ featuring Andrew Wyatt once again, evokes vibes of Steely Dan inspired r&b, but seems far too much like a song from that era, when it should feel much more modern. The album’s closer, ‘Crack in the Pearl, Pt II’, brings back Mr. Wonder’s harmonica solo from the album’s opener and places it on top of a funky drum and keyboard line, but verges too much on sounding like elevator music.
Overall, this is an album that will be defined by its singles. ‘Uptown Funk’, ‘Feel Right’ and ‘Daffodils’ all overshadow the rest of the album. If you were to take those three songs off the tracklist, you’d be left with something that is pretty good, but not particularly memorable.