Topping out 2014 with one of the best and most catchy singles of the year, Mark Ronson is primed to make 2015 his own. A word of warning though, anyone expecting an album of ‘Uptown Funk’-similes will be left wanting. While certain other superstar producers are okay with making their fame and fortune releasing LPs full of photocopied beats – cough Calvin Harris cough cough – Ronson dips equally into the psychedelic sounds of the ’70s as well as the irrepressible funk’n’b of the ’60s, not to mention more than few nods to modern hip-hop and ’80s synth-pop.
First things first, is there ANYTHING else on here on par with ‘Uptown Funk’? Short answer, yes, in the form of album highlight ‘Feel Right’ featuring Mystikal, who has always been sold as a potty-mouthed version of James Brown, and here sounds more like the Godfather Of Soul than ever before. Elsewhere though, there’s not much in the way of potential chart-botherers. Much more experimental than you might expect, Ronson has brought revered author Michael Chabon to write or co-write the lyrics to most of the songs on here, while producer Jeff Bhasker – who provided a lot of the foundation on Kanye’s 808 & Heartbreaks – provides electronic back-up to some of the live instrumentals.
That’s before we get into the performers, which range from brand new discovery Keyone Starr – who tears the roof off for the disco-diva channelling ‘I Can’t Lose’ – to Stevie Wonder on harmonica for the album’s opening and closing tracks, as well as Tame Impala front-man Kevin Parker and Miike Snow vocalist Andrew Wyatt splitting the majority of the remainder between them. Combined they delivery an album that sounds at once complimentary to an era gone by and quite unlike anything else out there right now.
‘Daffodils’ is basically Empire Of The Sun asking Nile Ridgers asking for dig out, echoed vocals on a bed of ethereal synths and filthy guitar riffs, while ‘Summer Breaking’ comes on like a chopped-and-twisted version of Zero 7 track that has taken one-too-many uppers. ‘In Case Of Fire’ is a soul and rock hybrid that will have you singing along before you’ve even heard it all the way through for the first time…the list of influences for each track and how Ronson has morphed them all to sound so cutting edge goes on and on.
If there are any faults, it’s that there’s not nearly enough of the Uptown Special to go around. Of the album’s eleven tracks, three of them clock in under two and a half minutes, while one of the tracks (‘Crack In The Pearl’) finds its melody repeated twice throughout, merely sped up second time around. Also, after the one-two punch of ‘Uptown Funk’ and ‘Feel Right’, the rest of the album can sometimes feel a little like lounge music in comparison. But since when has wanting more a good thing been a bad thing? Go in with an open mind and you’re guaranteed one of the more eclectically enjoyable pop albums you’re likely to hear this year.