fri 23/08/2019

CD: Mark Ronson - Uptown Special | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Mark Ronson - Uptown Special

CD: Mark Ronson - Uptown Special

Fourth from New York golden boy DJ-producer is uptown but not top ranking

Speakers remain unblown

Musically speaking the mid-1980s stank. The electro-pop blitz and general post-punk aftershock had faded, but the first hints of the rave revolution were years away. 1984 to 1987, whatever retro-fetishists might say to the contrary, consisted of Phil Collins; of Jermaine Jackson telling us we didn’t have to take our clothes off to have a good time; of David Bowie recording noodle with Pat Metheny; of Phil Collins; of Michael Jackson’s massively overrated Bad album (truly, have you listened to it lately?), and of endless stuff like DeBarge, Mr Mister, Steve Winwood, Five Star, Pete Cetera, Atlantic Starr and, God help us, Phil Collins.

The period reeked of schmoozy, cokey Los Angeles session men playing over-produced jazz-funk with a tinny “rock edge”, to be danced to by UK suburbanites pretending they were Jennifer Beals or, if male, hoping in Mr Byrite suits to be mistaken for Miami police detectives in slip-on loafers. This is what Mark Ronson’s new album – co-created with Kanye/Jay-Z super-producer Jeff Bhasker – sounds like. It even has Stevie Wonder dropping in, perhaps to recreate the vibe from his rightfully relegated-to-history Woman in Red soundtrack.

There are, of course, some juicy pop cuts that belie this description. Prime among them is the chart-topping “Uptown Funk”, featuring Bruno Mars, a golden Chic-meets-Pharrell moment, but also “Feel Right”, featuring Mystikal, a smart James Brown pastiche, and “In Case of Fire” which has a certain lazy yacht rock charm. More often, however, like Stuart Price’s unlovable Zoot Woman project before it, Ronson’s regurgitation of Eighties American FM radio smoothness is simply bland. Tracks such as "Summer Breaking" and "I Can't Lose" are M.O.R. surface sheeny and as slick as a Beverley Hills movie agent on the pull, even if the former does incongruously feature Kevin Parker of Australian psyche-rockers Tame Impala on vocals.

Taken out of context, i.e. without the knowledge that this is the fourth album from a shrewd, well-heeled culture vulture and Amy Winehouse collaborator, these could be mistaken for 21st century rerubs of iffy Kool & the Gang ballads and Hall & Oates off-cuts. It’s possible if you were beachside in the tropics rather than in freezing, sleet-swept, austerity Britain, the whole thing might be more palatable but, even with that in mind, Daft Punk did it first and better.

Overleaf: Watch the video for "Uptown Funk" featuring Bruno Mars

Taken out of context, these songs could be mistaken for 21st Century rerubs of iffy Kool & the Gang ballads and Hall & Oates off-cuts

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Average: 2 (1 vote)

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Music for the "Now" albums was poor, but go beyond the pop, the Indie scene was still thriving. Half Man Half Biscuits Back In The D.H.S.S led by the incredible 'Trumpton Riots' is just one example, and one of the best albums ever, 'The Men They Couldn't Hang's How Green Is the Valley. There were others, 'The Brilliant Corners' 'The Shop Assistants' 'The Soup Dragons' and 'Throwing Muses' to name a few. These bands all existed but were banished to late night John Peel so the kids would not be influenced.

I totally agree, Anonymous, that there was great music about. Some of my fondest musical memories also date from that period - The Jesus & Mary Chain in their prime, for starters. I should have made clearer that I was really referring to chart pop, to the stuff they played in surburban discos and on daytime Radio 1. That usually reeked!

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