British super-producer Mark Ronson hasn’t released an album in five years, and it seems the intention when his widely anticipated return is to pick up where Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories left off. That record was amongst the best-selling albums of 2013, and you suspect Uptown Special will enjoy similar commercial success.
This latest release is comfortably Ronson’s best album thus far, but despite the London-based producer’s involvement in so many hit singles, that really isn’t saying much. 2003’s Here Comes The Fuzz and 2010’s Record Collection were both underwhelming collections of dance-pop, whilst 2007’s Version felt like an ill-advised all-star karaoke compilation. Ronson’s ascent to stardom has been the result of chart singles (the most memorable being Amy Winehouse’s Zutons cover of Valerie) rather than solid LP’s, and thus expectations for Uptown Special are perhaps unfairly high.
Unless you’ve been living in a remote cave in the mountains somewhere you’ll be well aware of the Nile Rogers worshipping single Uptown Funk, and the likes of I Can’t Lose and Heavy and Rolling are similarly indebted to the Motown pioneer. Ronson doesn’t quite embody the seventies funk resurgence with the same nuance or class that Daft Punk did two years ago, but his music does sound fresh and exciting in the same way Random Access Memories did when it arrived.
Feel Right is an absolute gem of a track. It merges West-Coast rap with funk and jazz in triumphant fashion, with rapper Mystikal giving his best performance since the nineties in what is a likely contender for the album’s next single. The song’s hook will be permanently ingrained into your head upon first listen and I found myself playing it on repeat after my second run-through of the album.
Tame Impala frontman, Kevin Parker, guests on three tracks and takes the record on brief psychedelic voyages in Summer Breaking, Daffodils and Leaving Los Feliz. Each of these tracks is strong when looked at on their own, but they stick out like a sore thumb in the context of the album. Whilst Ronson’s collaboration with Parker does feel like an inspired choice, the tracks prevent the album from having a sense of continuity.
The only real weak moment is Crack in the Pearl, which is a bit too In The Air Tonight for its own good. Otherwise Uptown Special, gripes aside, is a superb pop album that on the most part benefits from its wide range of influences. The success of Uptown Funk has already assured its success, but the album is deserving of its plaudits and you suspect it’ll turn up on many ‘best-of’ lists come the end of the year. The seventies disco and funk resurgence isn’t going anywhere soon.