In his 2004 single Modern Marvel, Mos Def pondered what he would say to Marvin Gaye if the Motown virtuoso had lived to see the immeasurable influence he had on hip hop, funk, soul and, indeed, the music industry as a whole. The impact of Gaye’s music was such that, even in 2015, his posthumous presence is felt as strongly as ever. Mark Ronson‘s fourth studio album, Uptown Special, is testament to this.
‘We’ll see y’all uptown,’ chirps Bruno Mars at the end of Feel Right, alluding to his imminent presence on the album’s bombastic lead single, Uptown Funk. Mars is not the only familiar name lending vocals to Uptown Special. New Orleans rapper Mystikal, Andrew Wyatt (of Swedish electropop outfit Miike Snow) and Tame Impala‘s Kevin Parker are among those adding depth, charisma and not insignificant talent to an album that sees Ronson return to the scene of his adolescence. Born in London, Ronson grew up amid the diverse musical influences of New York in the early ’90s. He made his name as a club DJ whose eclectic selections included funk, soul, hip hop and rock, all of which are integral elements of Uptown Special.
The album’s low-key intro (which features Stevie Wonder), contradictorily titled Uptown’s First Finale, belies the soaring peaks of Ronson’s latest record. The fuzzed out Summer’s Breaking is followed by the fierce and expletive-laden Feel Right, which, after the placidity of the first two tracks, is akin to Mystikal kicking your door down and exposing himself. But in a really funky way.
Uptown Funk needs no introduction, having rapidly elevated Ronson and Mars to the top of the charts. Or, more accurately, having ensured Mars remains at the top of the charts while encouraging YouTube’s vociferous and ill-informed music community to ask questions like:
Mercifully, the rest of Uptown Special avoids baffling people by featuring pop stars.
Where the album really works is in the collaborations with Kevin Parker, whose intricate guitar work and distinctive, ethereal vocals are woven beautifully into Ronson’s mixes. Daffodils expertly balances the clutch of funk and psychedelica before accelerating in the direction of gritty electronic rock. Leaving Los Feliz is the feel good song of my summer. It struts and swirls, glides and soars, all the while providing space for Parker to flourish, while never once feeling empty.
If Uptown Special were a dog, it would undoubtedly be a mutt; so diverse and disparate are its musical genetics. Indeed, Bruno Mars and Kevin Parker exist worlds apart. Somehow, though, Mark Ronson has reconciled their artistic differences and utilised their respective talents to produce an album that, while not always cohesive, illustrates the inimitable skill and ambition of a man who should be lauded as the finest producer of our generation. I hope Marvin Gaye would agree.