Mark Ronson has been one of the producers who’s helped to shape pop music in the last decade or so always showing how knowledgeable he is of music, despite never really having any sort of sound of his own. He’s more of a producer who likes to take other people’s styles of music and recreate it himself. He does it well, and basically pays the highest form of flattery you can which at the end of the day is imitation. I have no doubt that people will instantly take offence to ‘Uptown Special’ because A) it sounds nothing like Ronson has ever done before and B) there’s so much they can pull apart on this record and be like ‘look he ripped off all these people from all these different eras!’
All you have to do is look at the lead single off of this album ‘Uptown Funk’ and hear the ‘AAAHHHHH’ that could’ve been taken straight out of Chic’s ‘Le Freak’ to see where these critics would be coming from. The first track on here could actually be a Stevie Wonder track it sounds so similar and the track just prior to ‘Uptown Funk’ entitled, ‘Feel Right’ featuring Mystikal, sounds brilliantly like James Brown meets Hip-Hop right down to the instrumental. It’s ‘Feel Right’ and ‘Uptown Funk’ that actually introduce the listeners perfectly for the album, and you feel they would have actually benefited from being the first two tracks on the album rather than the third and fourth. Bruno Mars appears speaking to an audience before and after ‘Feel Right’ making it actually feel like you were at a James Brown-esque concert and ‘Uptown Funk’ is the after party. It’s this sort of thing that makes you realise that Ronson is fully aware that he sounds like a tooled up version of the artists of the past but he simply wants to recreate it for your pleasure. It’s here that you realise that this is going to be an album jam-packed with throwbacks.
There most definitely is a fair few genres that get thrown around on this album. Not only is there RnB, Soul and Funk, there’s dabbling in psychedelic sounds as well, thanks to the help of the Tame Impala front-man Kevin Parker, who appears on three of the tracks on the record. Other than the odd guitar solo that’ll be reverb tinged, the first track to properly dive into the more psychedelic sound is ‘Daffodils’ which is also the longest track on the record. This song plods along at a steady pace with Parker’s vocals sounding like they were built for nostalgia while Ronson goes crazy with the synth lines around him sounding like a Nile Rodgers riff on acid.It really kicks off in the last-minute or so when the entire synth line that’s been playing throughout gets its distortion amped up tenfold. Parker and Ronson have a chemistry on this record that I could previously have never imagined; after hearing ‘Leaving Los Feliz’ I would be extremely pleased to hear if Ronson were to have anything to do with the next Tame Impala record, as this song just sounds like it could fit in their discography.
Elsewhere on the album, Andrew Wyatt sings in a similar fashion to Stevie Wonder with some pretty mixed results. Not because of any direct fault of his own it just sounds like he doesn’t seem to fit the sort of instrumentation he’s singing over, such as the penultimate track ‘Heavy and Rolling’. Elsewhere the more soulful tracks are performed better like the final track on the album with Stevie Wonder and Jeff Bhasker, which sounds like classic Stevie being back in his prime. ‘In Case Of Fire’ is Bhasker’s best moment on the album as he manages to sound like Michael Jackson in his more down-tempo and smooth moments. The only song on the album that could have been cut out is ‘I Can’t Lose’ which calls back to ’80s club classics’ which is a sound that’s better left in the past; not only that but it comes straight after the exhilarating performance from Mars on ‘Uptown Funk’.
Unlike Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories’ this album isn’t influenced by the past in order to create something futuristic but is instead reliving the past and showing everyone how great it was and still is. This album is the purest form of style over substance, you cannot come here hoping to find any sort of meaningful or even original pop music. ‘Uptown Special’ is incoherent, unoriginal and silly, but it’s also a good throwback that’s extremely well produced, well written for the most part and damn good fun. It shows off Ronson’s crazy talents as a producer through him being so unapologetically set in making music of the past, but showing that he can do it well. So to all the critics I say this; shut up, enjoy yourself and appreciate Ronson’s love letter to the past.
Best Tracks: ‘Uptown Funk’ ‘Feel Right’ ‘Daffodils’ ‘Leaving Los Feliz’