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Mark Ronson – ‘Uptown Special’ album review

The producer’s big comeback is packed with pastiche – and sadly not that special

By Oliver Keens |
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Mark Ronson – 'Uptown Special'

2 out of 5 stars

What does the man who has everything in life truly desire? What could someone born into glitz and money, with a career as a music producer and DJ, with model good looks and a good-looking model wife really need? Mark Ronson had it all, except a hit he could call his own. The transatlantic success of ‘Uptown Funk’ has changed all of that. He is finally complete.

Like ‘Get Lucky’ a couple of years back, the song smartly tapped into a nostalgia the public didn’t realise it had. Where Daft Punk used disco, Ronson (and guest Bruno Mars) used the synthed-up sounds of ’80s electric funk. Yes, it’s generic to the point of parody, and sounds like hundreds of perfectly ace records by black American artists that already exist. Yes, Ronson admitted that it took six whole months to record and that he even passed out trying to come up with the relatively simple two-chord guitar part. None of that matters. This is pop working as it should: being totally shameless, ubiquitous and providing that sacred bridge between the club and ‘The X Factor’. If you plan on going to a wedding in 2015, you will hear ‘Uptown Funk’. Deal with it.

But what of the rest of the album? Well, ‘Uptown Special’ isn’t 11 tracks of ’80s funk pastiche. No, there are psychedelic rock pastiches (assisted by Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker), a few Yacht Rock pastiches and a hugely infectious James Brown pastiche (the Mystikal-vocalled ‘Feel Right’) as well.

Ronson might object to the word pastiche. After all, he asked Pulitzer-winning writer Michael Chabon to write lyrics, which let’s be honest, The Darkness never did. The trouble is that is there are so many soundalikes flying around – from Snoop to Steely Dan, from Jagwar Ma to Lynyrd Skynyrd – that despite the production sheen, the album sounds empty and aimless with repeated listens.

Last year, Ronson gave a TED talk about sampling. In its studied and laboured way, ‘Uptown Special’ sounds like an album made by someone who’s given a TED talk on sampling. You can’t fault the ambition here,  but as an album, it’s hard to give an uptown f**k.

What do you think of ‘Uptown Special’? Leave your review in the comments box below or tweet us at @TimeOutMusic.

Buy this album on Amazon | Buy this album on iTunes

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