Rocketed to the top of the charts by the Bruno Mars–piloted hit “Uptown Funk” — with its Princely synths, Towering horns, and sly James Brown-isms (“gotta kiss myself so pretty”) — Mark Ronson’s latest is an ambitious homage to ’70s and ’80s funk and soul. While the well-chosen lead single fires on all cylinders, it feels like the rest of Uptown Special is struggling to keep up.
Similar to Ronson’s three previous albums, Special is a collaborative effort featuring an inspired guest list that, in addition to Mars, includes Stevie Wonder, rapper Mystikal, Kanye producer Jeff Bhasker, and Pulitzer-winning author Michael Chabon, who wrote most of the album’s lyrics.
Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, from Ronson's Uptown Special album
With a lineup like that, you might expect a masterpiece, but as much as the album impresses, it also disappoints. The languid “Crack in the Pearl” never really opens up and, sadly, Wonder’s a waste — only providing his signature harmonica stamp on the album’s truncated opening and closing songs.
The laid-back, Andrew Wyatt-assisted “Heavy and Rolling” is a charmer, but the real star of Special is Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, who lends his ethereal falsetto to three of the album’s best tracks, including the trippy-dippy “Daffodils” and hook-laden “Leaving Los Feliz.”
Reimagining retro sounds is familiar ground for Ronson; in addition to his own work, the super-producer took Amy Winehouse to new heights with Back to Black, her groundbreaking album steeped in the ’60s. Unfortunately, the uneven Uptown Special doesn’t quite find its groove.
- Album: Uptown Special
- Artist: Mark Ronson
- Label: RCA
- Songs: (1) Uptown’s First Finale (2) Summer Breaking (3) Feel Right (4) Uptown Funk (5) I Can’t Lose (6) Daffodils (7) Crack in the Pearl (8) In Case of Fire (9) Leaving Los Feliz (10) Heavy and Rolling (11) Crack in the Pearl, Pt. II