Release Date: Jan 13, 2015
Record label: RCA
If you say “cultural appropriation” three times into a mirror, a hologram of the Rolling Stones’ original lineup appears and performs “Ambitionz Az a Ridah.” We’re at a time when those two words have reached an insurmountable level of buzz-worthiness. Really, though, what’s the difference between appreciation and what could possibly be George Carlin’s eighth dirty word of he were still alive? Mark Ronson’s always had an affinity for black music, so to speak. His first record, Here Comes The Fuzz, was a compilation rap album wholly indicative of its time.
Enough has been written about the success of 'Uptown Funk', it's inescapable, a bona fide modern day mega hit. It's gone to number one all across the world, smashed its own streaming record three times, first pop single to split the atom etc...but what of the album? Does Uptown Special break under the weight of expectation created by its all conquering lead single? Or does it live up to the hype? Uptown Special plays like an uber cool DJ set, an ambitious and eclectic mix of Minneapolis funk, soul and old school R&B all filtered through Mark Ronson's slick, modern production. Throughout the album Ronson plays the role of puppet master to an impressive collection of musical talent.
We can easily cast our minds back to 2007, when Zutons cover ‘Valerie’ turned Mark Ronson into a reference-point for even the least musically inclined. The album ‘Version’ was a staple of coffee tables everywhere. But most people tend to forget 2010’s follow-up ‘Record Collection’, and with good reason: it was critically maligned, largely unsuccessful and generally quite awful.
Anyone wondering what kind of album Uptown Special is could do worse than look at the credits. More specifically, they could compare the list of special guests to those found on Mark Ronson’s last album. 2010’s Record Collection featured Kyle Falconer from the View and Rose Elinor Dougall, the latter a singer-songwriter and ex-Pipette whose evident talent has never been reflected in her record sales.
Review Summary: Hot damn.It’s not particularly remarkable that Mark Ronson was the one who finally snatched the Billboard Hot 100 crown from Taylor Swift’s clenched fists. The shock is that it took this long for it to happen. The British producer and singer-songwriter has been torching European charts for years, ever since his work on Amy Winehouse’s seminal Back to Black album defined his modern-retro pastiche and took Ronson’s work out of the warehouse clubs where he had made his name and into Grammy territory.
"Uptown Funk," the first single off of Mark Ronson's new album Uptown Special, is a funk and Motown track, slickly bedazzled with the coolness of Bruno Mars's attitude and style, and though the album as a whole doesn't totally resemble that track inasmuch as a surface approach, it does seem to be indicative of this sonic painting of a particular time and landscape. In "Summer Breaking," Kevin Parker of Tame Impala's vocals are reminiscent of Steely Dan's "Do It Again." But here, there's a slightly smoother, darker quality, recalling the pink painted imagery of Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive. .
What do you do when you're a connected and funded musician/producer who, like many others pushing 40 or greater, is disappointed with commercial music made by and for people born after your favorite era of music? If you're Mark Ronson, you dial a Pulitzer-winning novelist, snare a sympathetic group of stars, session giants, and unknowns, including a singer discovered during a talent quest through churches from New Orleans to Chicago, and record another tribute to your childhood soundtrack. Indeed, apart from the involvement of Michael Chabon, whose lyrics color nine of the 11 songs, Uptown Special is business as usual for Ronson and co-pilot Jeff Bhasker. The two songs that don't involve Chabon made the earliest and deepest impressions.
It’s easy to be suspicious of Mark Ronson, a man with enough A-list connections to merit his own Six Degrees Of… drinking game. When it comes to this pop music lark, however, it’s getting harder to dismiss him. We live in a retro-maniacal age, one the 39-year-old’s output has helped foster, but his own ear for the past – not to mention his gift for pastiche – is pretty much faultless.
It’s obviously no big news that Mark Ronson is the most well-connected man in showbusiness, but on each of his albums there are usually a few names that make you raise an eyebrow in surprise. In the case of Uptown Special, it’s not the likes of Bruno Mars or Stevie Wonder that are startling – that’s surely a given at this stage of Ronson’s career – but in the contribution of the lyricists. For none other than Michael Chabon, Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the most celebrated authors of his generation, has provided the lyrics for over half the tracks on Uptown Special.
If looking for Mark Ronson to give you a whole lot more of easily accessible pop, it’s not here. All of the aforementioned work of the past decade of his career is pop alchemy, whereas much of Uptown Special is more in the vein of great music for music’s sake. “Uptown Funk” and “Feel Right” have all of the earmarkings of Ronson’s old school-drenched legacy though, which is going to suck in ears and open wallets.
For his fourth album, Uptown Special, U.K. producer Mark Ronson assembles a seemingly disparate group of collaborators—from choir soloist Keyone Starr, whom he discovered in a Mississippi church, to Stevie Wonder, to novelist Michael Chabon, who wrote most of the album's lyrics—to create a cohesive homage to vintage soul and funk fused with electronic elements and '90s hip-hop flourishes. The result will likely please devotees of those older genres while potentially frustrating listeners expecting 10 tracks resembling the album's hit lead single “Uptown Funk,” a beat-for-beat study in how to retrofit an older musical style in order to sell records in 2015.
Let's get one thing out of the way: musician-producer Mark Ronson isn't a singer, or someone who pretends to be. What Uptown Special represents is an ode of sorts to classic funk and R&B sounds. Lead single "Uptown Funk" (featuring Bruno Mars) is a number that you will either love or hate, but charges that the upbeat number comes off as musically lazy are unfair.
Superproducer Mark Ronson first branded himself via Sixties pop-soul flavors with Amy Winehouse. This LP moves on to Seventies and Eighties funk, with more sharp casting: Stevie Wonder offers a harmonica benediction alongside session guitarists Carlos Alomar (David Bowie) and the late Teenie Hodges (Al Green); Kanye point man Jeff Bhasker rocks verses by novelist Michael Chabon; and Tame Impala's Kevin Parker morphs from psych-rocker to space-funker. The magic is in the details.
Crowning the Song of the Summer has become an annual tradition akin to the Super Bowl for music pundits, spawning its own Billboard chart, a seasonal stream of speculative think pieces, and official betting odds. But no such fanfare exists for determining the Song of the Winter, an arguably more impressive achievement, given that it must seize our attention from the hectic pre-Christmas crunch through to the post-New Year’s onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder (and all the grueling family gatherings in between). Where Songs of the Summer are readymade soundtracks for the happiest moments of your life, Songs of the Winter must be scientifically engineered with enough exuberance to fire up your serotonin during the most miserable time of year.
Individual genius is a seductive fallacy. In pop, we really like the idea of enjoying the organic fruit of one mind’s flowering. When the individual genius thing works, as it does with Stevie Wonder or Prince, just two of the funky sources on Uptown Special, Mark Ronson’s third artist album, it seems like a natural pinnacle against which creative endeavours should be judged.
Mark Ronson just got lucky. His smash “Uptown Funk” eagerly rode the coattails of the current retro-’70s funk-soul trend, forged by Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie,” Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” plus a host of singles shaped by Pharrell. Yet, none of those songs milked the past as cynically as this.
It wasn’t until I watched Mark Ronson’s 2014 TED Talk that his fourth studio album, Uptown Special, made sense. “You can’t hijack nostalgia wholesale,” he said. “It leaves the listener feeling sickly. You have to take an element of [the past] and then bring something fresh and new to it.” Ronson used this winning formula for artists like the late Amy Winehouse, but he uses it so dominantly on Uptown Special, with so many diverse nostalgic influences, that the end result is chaotic.
Glance back over many of pop culture’s recent magical moments, and you’ll see one name pop up over again: Mark “Mr. Midas” Ronson, that guy standing in the back of the photo like Leonard Zelig in Ray Bans. His ubiquity is spooky—cue a goldfinger montage starring Adele, Christina Aguilera, Paul “Fab Macca” McCartney, Duran Duran, Rufus Wainwright, Lily Allen, Bruno Mars, Robbie Williams, George Formby.
Nine months ago, inexplicably popular misery-peddler Sam Smith had this to say in an interview with GQ magazine: “Disco needs to stop. I like disco, I liked it when it came out – like last year with Get Lucky but now everyone seems to be doing it and it’s way too much”. As baffling statements go, it was right up there with Craig David’s bizarre 2010 admission (“I didn’t actually know that Motown was a label.
Mark Ronson gets more attention as a producer for what he brings to, and out of, other musicians than for his own releases. But on his fourth album, Uptown Special, Ronson has saved the best for himself, with Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West, Alicia Keys) co-writing and -producing and acclaimed novelist Michael Chabon contributing lyrics. Uptown Special’s overall tone features classic funk and R&B along the lines of masters James Brown and Stevie Wonder (who appears on the album).
Gloriously coiffed mega-producer Mark Ronson's spotty solo career has yielded the throwback classic Valerie, hip-hop party starter Ooh Wee and cult gay anthem Somebody To Love Me. At last, with latest single Uptown Funk, he has a number-one hit in North America. The horn-y ode to early 80s Minneapolis funk is the perfect vehicle for twinkle-toed pop star Bruno Mars, and the album surrounding it is Ronson's most cohesive.
On his first release since 2010’s “Record Collection,” Mark Ronson roars back with a hard funk album that pays tribute to the music he grew up with, while putting a fresh spin on it. “Uptown Special” sounds like a true labor of love; it’s also a sinful amount of fun and unabashed in its pursuit of a good time. The revered music producer’s latest is a far-flung collaboration featuring everyone from Stevie Wonder on harmonica, to Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker and Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt on guest vocals, to lyrical contributions from Michael Chabon, who’s noted as “Ronson’s favorite living author” in the press materials.
The best way to capture the musical essence of Mark Ronson's fourth album is to imagine each song as the theme to its own TV show. With its mellow, Stevie Wonder-blown harmonica line, for example, opener "Uptown's First Finale" could score the next great post-"ER" medical drama. "Summer Breaking" is a ringer for the theme to "Law and Order," at least in its opening bars: a smooth, professional groove that suggests Steely Dan, yacht rock and police procedurals.
opinion byZACHARY BERNSTEIN < @znbernstein > Mark Ronson is pretty fly for a white guy. He’s a GQ cover boy. He dates Hollywood actresses (Rashida Jones) and marries French models (Josephine de La Baume). He has Simon Le Bon, Quincy Jones, and Ghostface Killah on speed dial, and that’s only the beginning of his musical pedigree.