Mark Ronson – Uptown Special – Album Review
Mark Ronson is stepping into the limelight with his fourth studio album Uptown Special. While the producer has been writing hits for years for the likes of Amy Winehouse (who the album is dedicated to), Adele and even Paul McCartney, he has finally decided to take some more credit.
The album is a little disjointed, and Random Access Memories-esque, but interesting nonetheless. Its opening track “Uptown’s First Finale”, featuring Stevie Wonder, is really more an ambient opener than anything noteworthy. Following it is “Summer Breaking” but as much as I love Tame Impala and Kevin Parker in general, the song sounds like a really well produced Santana track. Unfortunately it does not really go anywhere and stays slightly boring.
“Feel Right” with Mystikal feels like “Get On Up” by James Brown, but with a little less swag. Some of the brass on this track is cool and the drums are great. Mystikals vocal work is pretty slick and his weird rap style is vicious and fast as heck.
Obviously the album hits its high point on “Uptown Funk.” The track is the most catchy on the record and addictive enough to warrant repeat listens the first time you hear it. The instrumentation feels real and the grooves and lyrics work perfectly together to make the best pop song I’ve heard in a long while.
“I Can’t Lose” with Keyone Starr, has a very Janelle Monae vibe, with its electric jazz sound. The bass line is really funky and distorted, and the electro-rock feel is interesting. The guitar licks on this track really keep you listening too and the brass adds a nice real layer to an otherwise more electronic track. Although the lyrics are a little throwaway and compared to a Janelle Monae song the vocals do not really break through.
“Daffodils” is perfect digital funk, the guitar hook is delicious, the bass line is deceptively dark, the effects are entrancing and the keys fill out the sound perfectly. The bass is really heavy but the attack is slow enough to hide this until later in the song. The breaks in the song are dirty and resemble cuts from the latest St. Vincent record in their strange guitar sounds. The second break makes you think you may have hit the end of the song before bringing you to a killer bass drop. This is truly the result of two amazing producers working together, one of them being a guitar effects master.
“Crack In The Pearl” finds Andrew Wyatt trying to emulate Stevie Wonder, on a track that sounds pretty but is once again a little boring. The song also raises the question, why emulate Wonder so closely, when he is already on the record?
But the next track “In Case Of Fire” has Jeff Bhasker emulating Wonder perfectly, but keeping things new with a funky bass and synth-line, sounding like Hall and Oates and “Higher Ground” had a musical lovechild. The guitar lick is divine, and the vocals have such a cheeky 70s falsetto to them that it is impossible to not get hooked. The line “Bad Girl, Good Moves” is one catchy enough to always elicit a sing-a-long.
“Leaving Los Feliz” has Kevin Parker playing some nice licks and singing on a decently groovy track. Ultimately though it doesn’t really pop out and feels like it would’ve been a really good track when Shaggy was putting music out. Even the cool ambient break feels like Parker emulating his Tame Impala work, it is good however to see he’s endlessly creative enough to make these tracks.
“Heavy And Rolling” has more of Andrew Wyatt trying to be Stevie Wonder, making me seriously question why Wonder only bookends this album and does not just replace Wyatt outright. Some of the guitar here is pretty slick though and sounds like it was likely Parker’s work. The key changes and general chord changes are really nice and smooth but the track still feels a little sleepy.
The album ends a little lackluster on “Crack In The Pearl Pt. 2” with Wonder returning on a track just mixing the opening track with “Crack In The Pearl.” This ultimately ends the album a little weak.
While there are some really great tracks and a good nostalgia kick, the album does feel pieced together at times and many songs seem like they have been done before, and better. While it can imitate older sounds correctly at times, it does open itself up to the “already heard it” problem. Also the disconnected nature from song to song can have you really into the album at times and feeling like the wrong band just walked on a track later.
Reviewed by Owen Maxwell