We can easily cast our minds back to 2007, when Zutons cover ‘Valerie’ turned Mark Ronson into a reference-point for even the least musically inclined. The album ‘Version’ was a staple of coffee tables everywhere. But most people tend to forget 2010’s follow-up ‘Record Collection’, and with good reason: it was critically maligned, largely unsuccessful and generally quite awful. So, when you try and get your head around the outright genius of ‘Uptown Special’, Ronson’s fourth studio album, you can’t help but think, ‘why wasn’t this released in its place?’
Setting out to create his own original versions of the funk and soul jams he played out in New York hip-hop clubs in the early noughties, in ‘Uptown Special’ Ronson creates a backward-looking cosmic funk record, as quirky as it is bombastic. Cunningly enlisting Pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Chabon as chief lyricist, the hooks are unforgettable. And that holds whether we’re talking rapper-turned-actor Mystikal’s grubby gusts on ‘Feel Right’, Bruno Mars’ contagious imperative of “don’t believe me just watch”, new talent Keyone Star’s mellifluous hand in ‘I Can’t Lose’, or Jeff Bhasker’s miraculous foxiness in the urgent-sounding ‘In Case of Fire’.
Recurrent guest appearances allow a cohesion that wasn’t present on previous albums, and it’s Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker who has the best turns. While disco guitar twangs and restless bass grooves cut up ‘Daffodils’ and reassociate Parker’s trademark fuzzy vocal with a fidgety form of funk, ‘Leaving Los Feliz’ is chilled-out Parker at his best, with slinky guitar lines shadowing his vocal in a particularly vintage chorus. In fact, you can imagine songs like this appearing on a fuzzy, sepia-tinged VHS recording of an Old Grey Whistle Test, with Bob Harris certainly mumbling something complimentary in the background. Rarely entering the realm of pastiche, in all, this makes for a brilliant, ageless album.