We’ve all heard (and mimicked the righteous dance routine) of ‘Uptown Funk’ by now. As the first ambassador of Mark Ronson’s first record in five years, the track’s undeniable swagger indicated an emphasis on the groove for his new project and that is indeed half-right – Uptown Special is largely comprised of retro funk-jams but also of songs that hark back to the glory days of 70s rock. ‘Summer Breaking’ conjures up images of well-groomed, moustachioed cops in a montage of roof-jumping and car-chases so reminiscent it is of a Miami Vice-like theme, and were it not for the sparkly modern sheen these tracks boast you could quite easily convince someone that the chunky riffs of ‘In Case Of Fire’ and ‘Heavy And Rolling’ were old Journey tunes.
‘Summer Breaking’ is one of three tracks here to feature Kevin Parker of Tame Impala on lead vocals as Ronson has once again rounded up a star-studded list of contributors. The great Stevie Wonder bookends the record with two colourful solos on his amazingly distinctive harmonica – a fact that Ronson can still not get over – and forgotten booty-shaking endorser Mystikal is happy to report that he’s “still rapping, slapping kittens and grabbing my cock” on the fantastic James Brown-like groove-train ‘Feel Right’. Gospel singer Keyone Starr – who owns the Michael Jackson meets Chaka Khan jam ‘I Can’t Lose – was discovered by Ronson upon his travels around southern USA, but the most interesting collaborator at work has to be the enlisting of Pulitzer prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon to pen the record’s lyrics.
Chabon’s words utilise some wonderfully vivid imagery but can also appear too convoluted on occasion as he reaches for extreme detail and the spacey strut of ‘Daffodils’ shows both sides of this. With such show-stealing singers on hand though, it’s barely noticeable amongst the laser-guided melodies and Ronson’s razor-edged guitars which litter the album.
While there is no sign of anything here that could threaten to knock ‘Uptown Funk’ off of its current number one throne, Uptown Special is simply a marvellously fun collection of songs that Ronson and co. have clearly toiled over tirelessly, perfecting every shiny second. It shows, and it’s his strongest work yet.