With guests including Kevin Parker, the A-list producer's fourth album finds chemistry in the most unlikely places
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. You need look no further than ‘Uptown Funk’ – an insta-phenomenon that had to be rush-released in December to compete with its own X Factor cover – for evidence of that.
Like Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’, ‘Uptown Funk’ is one of those songs you can’t quite believe someone hasn’t written already; Prince has probably had to double-check that he didn’t. You might say this is the entire raison d’être of ‘Uptown Special’: from the Steely Dan-ish jazz-rock of ‘Summer Breaking’ (one of two tracks to feature Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker), to the way ‘I Can’t Lose’ transports the listener to a poppers-stained Manhattan dancefloor circa 1989, everything seems precision-engineered to remind you of something else. ‘Crack In The Pearl Pt II’ aims for even greater fidelity by enlisting the help of the artist it’s riffing on – in this case, Stevie Wonder.
That might seem a shameless bit of stunt casting, but ‘Uptown Special’ doesn’t fall into the same pitfalls as its predecessors in that regard. In fact, Ronson’s fourth record consistently finds chemistry in the unlikeliest of places, not least between Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon (who wrote most of the lyrics), and Parker, whose distinctively woozy vocals prove the perfect vessel for the trippy wordplay on narco-funk workout ‘Daffodils’. Other pitfalls, however, aren’t so easily avoided: while there are occasional (and ill-defined) flirtations with narrative, the album still unfolds like a DJ set, eclectic without ever sounding entirely cohesive. Still, if 2010’s ‘Record Collection’ was the sound of a man eager to atone for past musical transgressions, ‘Uptown Special’ is Ronson’s moment of absolution: you can try to hate it, but in the end, as with all the best pop music, resistance is futile.
Director: Mark Ronson, Jeff Bhasker
Record label: Columbia
Release date: 19 Jan, 2015