Mark Ronson has an undeniable knack for pastiche and his newest record, the recently released Uptown Special, is further proof of that. On this, his fourth album, Ronson recreates the vibrancy of late 70s and 80s funk, soul and R&B, all the while setting out to capture the atmosphere of New York hip-hop clubs in the late 90s, where he spent a majority of his formative years.
Now a Grammy-award winning producer, Ronson has teamed up with a seemingly endless list of collaborators – from Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker to the king himself, Stevie Wonder – the result of which is a brief but vibrant collection of tracks which prove impossible to ignore.
One of the most intriguing contributions comes from Pulitzer Award-winning American novelist Michael Chabon, who wrote a majority of the album’s lyrics. On Daffodils especially, his writing forms a natural chemistry with Kevin Parker’s dreamy falsetto vocals. Parker heavily influences the synth and guitar lines throughout this track, answering any questions of what Tame Impala would sound like playing funk. His influence on the album overall is also highly positive, with both Daffodils and the laid-back jazz-rock cruiser, Summer Breaking, becoming standouts for the record.
Following the tranquil Summer Breaking comes the explosive Feel Right whose vocals from Dirty South rapper Mystikal appear heavily influenced by Ronson’s time spent on the New York clubbing scene at the turn of the century, however there is still an underlying retro funk line which motivates the tune. While Feel Right has the potential to become a floor-filler, Mystikal’s rough and ready vocals are relentless and are not entirely cohesive with the preceding track.
The following track however, has already gained widespread acclaim with many critics drawing comparisons to Daft Punk’s 2013 mega-hit Get Lucky. Co-wrote and co-produced with Bruno Mars, Uptown Funk is an immediate club banger. Both this song and its accompanying music video are equal parts loveable and saccharine, with a cheesiness that endearing though may be off-putting to some. Regardless of your opinion of Bruno Mars, there is no denying this song’s catchiness and effectiveness as the album’s lead single.
Ronson’s keen ear for the past is an enviable quality as the music industry has begun responding to audiences’ rapidly developing taste for the retro and nostalgic. Having always gravitated towards the classic sounds of soul, hip-hop, funk and R&B, his music appears precision engineered to give the people what they want. Though the entirety of Uptown Special is not one hundred per-cent cohesive, it is thoroughly enjoyable and sure to be warmly welcomed by the masses.