It had been a while since Mark Ronson had brought out an album with this being his first outing since the confused set “My Record Collection” from 2010.
The problem this album was always going to suffer was the success of the lead single “Uptown Funk” which I think everyone in the world seems to have heard no matter what age you are. “Uptown Funk” was released in 2014 and is currently the biggest selling single (by some way) of 2015. This song has dominated the charts so much that releasing another single to have any success has been difficult.
Yet this album has some brilliant tracks and Ronson has produced a really solid set of songs.
The opening track is an intro “Uptowns First Finale”. This is a play on the album title from Stevie Wonder “Fullfillingness First Finale”. This track features no other than Wonder playing his trademark Harmonica.
Track 2 feature Tame Impala lead vocalist Kevin Parker who will go on to appear on three of the albums tracks. This particular song “Summer Breaking” is a very chilled Roy Ayres sounding song which leaves you totally unprepared for the next two songs.
Track 3 is “Feels Right” featuring the rapper Mystikal. You may remember Mystikal from the track “Shake Your Ass” which featured prominently in the Hugh Grant movie “About a boy”. Mystikal isn’t a pleasant rapper and you would rarely listen to him to listen to a tale of any significance but on this track he is perfect. It is almost as if he has channeled James Brown. Yes the song is a tad vulgar but its so funky I dare you not to move when listening.
And the funk continues into “Uptown Funk” on track 4 where Bruno Mars continues his retro trend like on “Locked out of heaven” and ” Treasure” and sounds exactly like he has been transported out of Studio 54 in the 70’s. Backed by brilliant live instrumentation I love the way Ronson allows the track to simmer on in those final 30 seconds. Unfortunately many of the radio edits cut the song far too early but regardless “Uptown Funk” will be played for many years to come.
Whilst 70’s funk was the theme of the last two songs the next track “I Can’t Lose” (featuring vocalist Keyone Starr) turns its attentions to the 80’s with some synth tunes and a melody reminiscent of some of the UK funk soul sound from the likes of Loose Ends and even Jaki Graham. This song is one of those tracks that as a single would have worked but “Uptown Funk” seem to negate the need for another big single.
Kevin Parker is back on track 6 with a very ethereal falsetto on “Daffodils”. The winner on this song is the guitar solo near the end which is very Prince like its refusal to keep in time with the rest of the track.
“Crack the pearl” sees Ronson team up with singer Andrew Wyatt who he has worked with previously. The song is an extended version of what we heard in the very first track. It’s not particularly exciting without Wonder’s harmonica.
Producer, Vocalist and instrumentalist Jeff Bhasker features on “In Case of fire” which is a track on first listen instantly liked. Again it has that funky rift and distorted guitar. The vocal has been put through a filter which sounds almost as if someone is singing along in the distance to a song on the radio. It is understated but that guitar then hits you in the face.
For track 9 we have “Leaving Los Feliz”. I have to confess I had no idea what Los Feliz is and needed to look this up. It appears that Los Feliz is a hipster / arty area of LA. This song is about a an ageing musican who realises he is too old to be partying any more. Could this be something relevant to Ronson who has released his first album “Here comes the Fuzz” 12 years ago?
“Heavy and Rolling” sound a bit like the 80’s track from Carl Carlton “She’s a bad mama jama” but as I like that song I am obviously going to like this also. Kevin Parker is back again on this track which for me is the best of the three he is on. His voice is pure and clear and its a really nice song.
“Crack the pearl part II” is disappointing only for the fact that it doesn’t go on long enough. Its a funky frenzy with that Stevie Wonder harmonica from the first track now sped up and put alongside this funky synth beat. Its a great way to end a really solid album.
Ronson has always taken from previous eras and showed his appreciation for musical styles gone by. We saw him do this on “Here Comes the fuzz” with samples from artists like Bony M, and then we saw him try to take on many Indie songs such as “Valerie” and “Stop Me” on his album “Version”. He attempts to put his spin on things and he has gone all out for a funk vibe on “Uptown Special”.
Uptown Funk was “gonna give it to ya” and Uptown Special did.