Super-producer Mark Ronson returned this January with his third studio album Uptown Special, surprising us with an early release. Like all of his work, it’s a collaborative collection of songs inspired by perhaps the entire history of music. He’s not the only musical expert involved; Ronson has recruited friends like Jeff Bhasker, Andrew Wyatt, Kevin Parker and world-famous superstar Bruno Mars to make this album the smooth, immaculate piece of work it is. The album is currently sitting at No.1 in the UK Chart, as is the first single ‘Uptown Funk’.
There’s plenty of reasons Mark Ronson is dominating the charts right now. Track 4, ‘Uptown Funk’, is currently everywhere (as we predicted in our single review), and even if you don’t think you’ve heard it? You have. It had to be released early due to it being covered on X-Factor, quickly rising in the charts at the end of 2014, becoming many people’s last-minute favourite song of the year and it seems well on its way to being a staple song of 2015 too.
The most radio-friendly song of the year is strangely preceded by a track that is far less likely to hit the airwaves – ‘Feel Right’ ft. Mystikal – purely because of its intense profanity and Mystikal’s impressive, but aggressive rapping. It’s a powerful tune despite being carried by a combination of relatively simple parts; an underwhelming guitar riff, a great bass line and the return some of Ronson’s favourite horns. Mystikal’s inclusion adds a suited hip-hop weight to the album, which isn’t found as purely in the other vocalist features.
It would be a daunting task, for any song, to follow up ‘Uptown Funk’ wherever it’s played. Uptown Special deals with the problem of its beastliness by following with the equally infectious ‘I Can’t Lose’, featuring the singer which Mark Ronson and Jeff Bhasker toured America to find; Keyone Starr. Her voice is certainly worth the wait, suiting Jeff Bhasker’s Alicia Keys-esque vocal melody perfectly and carrying the Motown vibe of the song nicely into its modern, poppy destination.
Kevin Parker’s input on the album is probably one of many reasons it sounds so great, and both ‘Summer Breaking’ and ‘Daffodils’ show how suited his voice is in what could be considered an out-of-place album for an Australian psychedelic mastermind. The bass groove of ‘Daffodils’ is the ideal fit to the funk of Uptown Special and the breezy feel of ‘Summer Breaking’ is a perfect start to the record following the impressive Stevie Wonder opener.
The second part of the album, despite not having any of the singles, is by all means still as strong as the first half. It kicks off with ‘Crack in the Pearl’, a short and soulful collaboration with Andrew Wyatt, nicely placed there to give the listener a break from all the excitement that has been going on in the album so far. It’s probably not the strongest track but it does give some variation to the album and avoids making it monotonous. Ronson is commonly known for expanding into all sorts of genres and so to its advantage, it ultimately helps to turn the album into a more musically enriching experience.
Choosing a favourite track- apart from ‘Uptown Funk’- in this album is an incredible (maybe impossible?) task, however the next two tracks ‘In Case of Fire’ and ‘Leaving los Feliz’ are definitely up there. ‘In Case of Fire’ brings back the energy once again into the record; the guitar riffs are incredibly catchy and the distortion on the chorus now shows the slightly more rocky side of the album. It’s a song which you might think belonged in a Stevie Wonder or even Michael Jackson album, which goes to show the calibre of this album.
‘Leaving Los Feliz’ is Kevin Parkers third and final contribution to the album and it’s a good one. Probably one of the more cheerful songs makes the album stay exciting and upbeat right to the near end. Bearing in mind this was meant to be a 90’s hip hop album, it seemed odd when a psychedelic indie rock singer was announced to feature in the album. However it just goes to show the vision that Ronson had when he decided to approach him and also the talent Parker has to make any genre sound good.
‘Heavy Rolling’, the penultimate song, is another soulful effort from Ronson and Wyatt. Just as with many other songs on the record it feels like it’s from a completely different era, however Ronson manages to incorporate it seamlessly into a modern album. The song has a very enjoyable road trip feel to it and brings down the tempo of the album nicely with a great keyboard solo at the end.
The last song ‘Crack of the Pearl, Pt. 2’ gives a great ending to Uptown Special no less because of the simply mind-blowing harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder, which is how all albums should really end.
Uptown Special definitely is something special, and the fact that a song like ‘Uptown Funk’ has been in the top spot for so long already says something. Previous recent albums such as Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories which included the hit ‘Get Lucky’ showed a hint of a new direction in music; and now ‘Uptown Funk’ has followed the trend. It feels like Uptown Special has now set a new standard in modern music and hopefully more will continue from here.