With his new 2015 LP, Uptown Special, Mark Ronson has created a monumental party album that draws heavily on a wide range of influences from '70s disco, funk, and jazz-rock to '80s pop, soul, and hip hop.
For those who aren't familiar with Ronson, he first became well known after producing major hit albums for Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen in 2006. Since then, he's worked as a producer for a wide range of artists that also includes Adele, Robbie Williams, Q-Tip, and Ghostface Killah (to name a few). In addition to being a producer, Ronson is a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and DJ. The man is one of the most eclectic guys on the A-list.
Putting together Uptown Special, Ronson recruited a collection of not just stars, but superstars. In addition to Bruno Mars, who's featured on the infectious "Uptown Funk," you've got Stevie Wonder, Tame Impala's Kevin Parker, and heavyweight novelist Michael Chabon who co-wrote 9 of the 11 songs on the album. Even aside from the stars, there's lots of talent here including Keyone Starr, Andrew Wyatt, and Jeff Bhasker.
The aforementioned "Uptown Funk" is certainly nothing new or particularly groundbreaking, but it's a fun song. The same could be said of Mystikal's "Feel Right," which is a blatant copy of James Brown. What makes Uptown Special a true success is the balance between funky pop music and guitar-driven rock. This is an album that fans of Steely Dan and Jeff Beck should appreciate as much as anything else that's come out in the last decade. You can also hear some elements of Phil Collins in the spacier songs.
Strong lyricism and songwriting really help Uptown Special avoid the pitfalls of sounding too contrived or clichéd. In the post-LCD Soundsystem era, when rock has finally come to terms with disco and embraced the DJ culture, this is an album that translates well across different environments. This is music that's danceable and also sounds great on headphones. There's a lot of variety here, with different vocalists and songwriters bringing different strengths to the table. The common thread is that there's a warm ambiance through the record that's very pleasurable to listen to.
For more insight, be sure to check out The Guardian, where Ronson gave details about what went into each individual song.