Mark Ronson – Uptown Special
The UK producer gets intimate with the funk of the Seventies and Eighties on his fourth album, weaving thumping bass lines under stacks of, uh, Stax guitar, horny synth work, and a laundry list of guest stars ranging from the supreme (Stevie Wonder, Bruno Mars) to the unknown (Keyone Starr, whose “I Can’t Lose” more than holds its own coming after megahit “Uptown Funk”). Uptown Special is the soundtrack of a night of liquor and love, from the sax-fuelled sunset of “Uptown’s First Finale” to the bleary stumble out into the dawn of “Crack In The Pearl, Pt II” – a pretty standard conceit, to be sure, but how many such albums have lyrics written by Michael “The Yiddish Policeman’s Club” Chabon? It’s these little quirks – “I wrote to Stevie Wonder and now he’s on the album!”, “I have Michael Chabon write the lyrics!”, “I have Mystikal conjuring up the ghost of James Brown!” – that elevate the album from simple Prince worship to something a little more sublime. Not too sublime, now; there’s something unpleasantly languid about tracks like “Daffodils” and “In Case of Fire” that don’t gel well with the ass-shaking bottom end present elsewhere, and at times it seems like Ronson couldn’t decide whether to make a pure party album or a pure sex-jam album so he decided to do both simultaneously. That decision doesn’t quite work, but it almost does, and it’s as funky a pop album as you’re going to find all summer anyway. Better get used to it.