What’s that I hear? The funk of old, with fabulous hair and psychedelic guitars? In Mark Ronson’s newest record, Uptown Special, this is exactly what he offers to us. From beginning to end we’re hailed with the sounds of the past, taking us right back to the 60s and 70s.
I’ll be damned if most of you haven’t yet heard his first smash hit from the album, Uptown Funk, featuring Bruno Mars and the Hooligans. It’s a showy number laden with a slick link and unapologetic funk swagger which is fully realized with Bruno Mars’ voice and persona. No other song on the album quite reaches those heights of out and out bombast, but that’s not to say there aren’t other musical gems on the album too.
In both the first and last track, ‘Uptown’s First Finale’ and ‘Crack in the Pearl, Pt. II’ respectively, Stevie Wonder returns to us via a blow of his harmonica, injecting some authentic mood into the songs. It’s as if you’ve walked in on what an improve session at the Motown studios might sound like today.
You can get your groove down to pretty much any song on the tracklist, with Ronson appearing to play along to the manual when it comes to creating funk and disco that will get anyone on the dance floor going. In that we can also see the faults in the album because, well, it’s just been done already. That’s not to say Ronson isn’t a good producer – given that in his fourth album he’s managed to go in a more assertive direction and not made it sound like some gimmick is testament enough. In the hands of anyone less skilled the whole album might just sound like a copycat tribute set of songs.
That being said, I don’t doubt that Uptown Special will do well. Whilst his recollections of old style R&B might turn off many who don’t want to hear ‘what they have before’, it’s been a while since some mainstream sexy disco music has come our way without coming from Robin Thicke or someone that we suspect has a different agenda other than just the music itself.
Songs like ‘In Case of Fire (feat. Jeff Bhasker)’ and ‘I Can’t Lose (feat. Keyone Starr)’ showcase the breath of influence within a single genre which Ronson has managed to source. It’s as if we’re travelling between the may different variations of R&B at once, where the former song might suit those with a more rock n roll sensibility whilst the latter will still sit happy with the Europop crowd.
Considering how ‘Uptown Funk’ was such a smash, it was a tall order to pull of an album consistent on that level, but my has Mark Ronson managed it. The album isn’t perfect, and one almost feels that on occasion he restrains himself too much within the rules of the genres he pays such homage to. But considering that the Bruno Mars song is hardly the most interesting track out of the eleven, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we saw much more of Ronson’s tracks as summer ever so slowly rears its head. I for one know that Uptown Special will be spun a couple more times in my room during the lazy July and August days.