Artist: Mark Ronson
Album: Uptown Special
Record Label: Sony
Release Date: 12th January 2015
The mastermind song-writer's new full-length may not be exactly what people were expecting, but it's a superb lesson in eccentricity and pop craftsmanship nonetheless
There has been much written on this site in the past about the current state of pop music and how, a bit like another organisational body that has the attitudes of many in its palms, it needs to change. Certainly Mark Ronson has never been a totally conventional pop star; a purely music-orientated songwriter, his constantly behind-the-scenes stance on radio play and in videos has meant that he's managed to avoid being seduced in the wrong way by the whole fame thing. "Uptown Special", however, may be about to stake a claim for change in regards to Ronson's appreciation. In what way exactly remains unclear, but one thing's for certain; this is an album rich in artistic expressionism.
What's clear from the get go on "Uptown Special" is how meticulously written, produced and considered the record is. Fans expecting more of the straight-up, shameless funk-pop that overnight megahit "Uptown Funk" alluded to should dash that expectation immediately, and that in turn is a testament to how Ronson is one of the most important mainstream songwriters of our time. There's no adherence to contemporary pop culture here; this is a joyous, organic excursion into a time-warp dream-scape fusing Ronson's record collection with his excellent craftsmanship.
It begins with "Uptown's First Finale", a shady but warm interlude-esque intro complete with an understated vocal performance from Stevie Wonder and '80s Baywatch sunrise vibes, and leads straight into the equally as languid but more illustrious shuffle of "Summer Breaking" featuring Tame Impala's Kevin Parker. Tales of road trips and getting high perfectly suit the song's lunch-time beach-front feel. We're then thrust straight into the driver's seat with the fabulous "Feel Right". The track's James Brown/ Sly & the Family Stone sex panther funk's simple and addictive smoothness is spearheaded by an insatiable rhythm section and rapper Mystikal's spleen- rupturing vocal delivery.
"I Can't Lose", featuring Keyone Starr, on vocals recalls the synth worship present on previous hits like "Bang Bang". Gorgeous keyboard chords entwine with another inexplicably tight rhythm oeuvre. The righteous stabs of brass and classic funk guitar noodling complement Starr's assertions of "I can't lose when I'm around you" wondrously. The hypnotic lead guitar riff of the second Kevin Parker feature, "Daffodils", leads into increasingly Flaming Lips-style weirdness with its bleepy, oddball synth dalliances and rushes of guitar distortion.
The sleepy, remorseful hue of "Crack in the Pearl" sees guest vocalist Andrew Wyatt introduce some break-up blues into the proceedings which offers another unexpected dimension, whilst the stomping Toto-esque '70s rock of "In Case of Fire" featuring Jeff Bhasker on vocals is a glorious re-injection of throwback energy; there's a sense of well-honed haze hanging over the track giving it a sense of precise, immediate but rapturous control.
It's not as if "Uptown Special" is worlds away from the creed suggested by its lead-off single; these are pop-songs in the truest sense, and 30 years ago may have been top 10 charters in their own right. But the idiosyncracy, creativity and flow of the record shows that its about vastly more than shifting units; it's about sunsets on beaches with wine and good friends, or midday cruises along the golden coast... You know, the sort of things modern pop music SHOULD be about.
Key Tracks: "Feel Right (ft. Mystikal)", "Daffodils (ft. Kevin Parker)", "In Case of Fire (ft. Jeff Bhasker)"
For Fans Of: Tame Impala, Smokey Robinson, Hall & Oates