I’ll be honest, the only reason I listened to this album was because of Kevin Parker. I think Kevin Parker is a musical genius and can do no wrong, so if he’s cool with Mark Ronson I suppose I am as well. As far as albums go where there’s tons of different artists playing puppet to Mr. Ronson’s puppet master Uptown Special isn’t too bad. But if you’re here for something deep, meaningful, and precious go look elsewhere.
So how does this work, anyways? Does Mark Ronson write these songs and bring in people he likes to sing on them? Does he arrange and let the singers write lyrics? I have no idea. Up until this album I thought Ronson was just some wunderkind producer. Amy Whinehouse’s Back To Black was where my ears perked up to what Ronson was doing. I loved the retro sound he made. But looking back he’s put out at least two other albums under his own name. Don’t ask me what’s on those, as I have no idea. Anyways, Uptown Special is 37 minutes of funkified pop and dance music with a couple excursions into territory that lifts the overall project into something other than radio hits.
The songs? Well apparently “Uptown Funk” with Bruno Mars is a hit. It sounds like a hit. Mars is a hell of a singer with the whole package; dance moves, style, and the vocal chops to back it all up. It’s a catchy tune that will surely steal the retro funk crown from Pharrell’s “Happy”. In a year grandmas and great aunts will be singing “Uptown funk you up” at wedding receptions across these great lands. You heard it here first.
Elsewhere Stevie Wonder even makes an appearance. He plays his world famous harmonica and sings on “Uptown’s First Finale” and his harp reappears for closer “Crack in the Pearl, Pt. II”. “Feel Right” has rapper Mystical doing his best hip hop version of Joe Tex’ “I Gotcha”. It’s a fun song that you’ll have to turn down when listening to it on your work computer(I learned the hard way.) “Crack In The Pearl” is kinda atmospheric with some great vocals. “In Case of Fire” has some rock guitar going on with an almost Steely Dan smoothness to it.
But to my ears the highlights on this album are the tracks that have Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker on vocal duties. “Summer Breaking” has a 60s vibe to it with the fuzzy guitar, then when Parker’s vocals come in it becomes this 70s soft rock slow burner that shouldn’t work but does. “Daffodils” sounds as much like a Tame Impala song as it does a Ronson joint. Wiggy synths and an almost “Billie Jean” rhythm, it ebbs and flows with some serious stoned indifference. It has the vibe of Lonerism B-side “Beverly Laurel”. This song alone is worth the price of admission. “Leaving Los Feliz” is a fun song with a great beat and another great vocal melody courtesy of Mr. Kevin Parker. A full-on collaboration LP between Ronson and Parker would be a cool thing to see and hear.
Okay, so Uptown Special isn’t going to change your world or blow your mind. It is, however, a fun and funky dance album filled with top notch production and a couple great rump shakin’ tunes. Plus, Kevin Parker. Can’t go wrong with that.
6.5 out of 10