IN AN AGE OF GUEST stars, I’ve always stuck to my guns and said albums shouldn’t be judged on the amount of cameos it features, else we’d all be crowning Calvin Harris the king of music. I have taken exactly the same approach when tackling Mark Ronson’s newest LP, Uptown Special, which was preceded by lead single ‘Uptown Funk’, its catchy riffs and ‘Oops Upside Your Head’ nod making it a proper earworm.
Musically, nothing tops this; ‘Uptown Funk’ is, without a doubt, the best track on the album. Bruno Mars really makes the vocal track something special and overall the track feels like an anthem for this ‘Funk Revival’ (patent pending) period we seem to be currently living in. Aspects of Ronson’s love for Disco come across in ‘In Case of Fire’ and, notably, in ‘Heavy and Rolling’, where Ronson seems to give his own take on a Stevie Wonder number.
But if you think this album is purely funk, think again my friend. Bringing in Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker on vocals for three tracks, Ronson delves into the Psychedelic. Indeed, every Parker track has drawn from Aussie Psych inspiration. It doesn’t have the same glowering majesty as the work of Tame Impala and Pond, yet ‘Daffodils’ is a pleasantly laid back, simple tune that marks a pleasant divide between the bursts of Disco.
At only 38 minutes in length, Uptown Special keeps it short and sharp, chopping a whole nine minutes off the running time of The Record Collection. This is good; I feel if this album had continued on for much longer, it would have drifted from funky to monotonous. But Uptown Special is far from the shining star it might seem to be. Sure, some of the tracks are good, but there are some don’t work. Most notable of these is ‘Feel Right’, featuring Mystikal, whose expletive-laden rapping is in sharp contrast to the very chilled atmosphere to the rest of the album.
Even aside from this, the tracks of Uptown Special don’t always grab the attention they were written for. There’s too much of a feeling of ‘fine’, as opposed to ‘exceptional’. It’s not a bad album, but it could have been so much more. While ‘Uptown Funk’ will no doubt feature on many top song polls, Uptown Special will fall short of the best album rankings.
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