According to Nicky Haslam-style party mavens, there’s an art to being a good host: an unobtrusively refilled glass, a sense of abundance, the right combination of people brought together in a harmonious yet unpredictable way. Mark Ronson, hovering with elegant discretion at the elbow of his fourth album, is a master of hospitality, a man who can make things happen. Slowly, perhaps – this is his first record since 2010’s pleasingly garish Record Collection – but Uptown Special is a delirious, at times ludicrous, synthesis of people and sounds, nonchalantly liquidising boundaries between high and low, credible and Bruno Mars.
“It’s a little psychedelic grotto away from the dancefloor”
Single Uptown Funk was rush-released after Fleur East’s cover on the X Factor became an overnight hit. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon contributed many of the album’s lyrics. Stevie Wonder guests on the record, yet so does Keyone Starr, whom Ronson and co-writer/producer Jeff Bhasker “discovered” in Mississippi while on a singer-sourcing road-trip. The exuberantly filthy Feel Right, starring Mystikal, highlights Ronson’s gifts as facilitator: “Thank you to Mr Ronson for bringing us together this evening. We’re going to go ahead and head over to the afterparty.”
Those suspicious of Ronson’s easy charm and impeccable hair might dismiss his talent for throwing disparate elements together as so much musical pattern-mixing or accessorising but there’s a meticulous attention to detail that runs beneath the surfaces. The producer is undoubtedly a magpie, but a generosity of spirit and a commitment to pleasure guide his roving eye. Uptown Funk, for example, serves up Chic, Grandmaster Flash and The Gap Band in a gluttonous Roman feast of hooks, one honey-roasted dormouse and a “hot damn” away from exploding.
Yet even more restrained songs never feel like they are running dry. Starr gives it her best Chaka Khan on the Ain’t Nobody blast of I Can’t Lose, while the ’80s Top Of The Pops flashbacks are enhanced by In Case Of Fire’s Michael Jackson slide and Crack In The Pearl's Prince-like smoulder. Unlike Record Collection, decked out in conversation-piece post-electroclash pop, Uptown Special comes with a built-in dreaminess, a little psychedelic grotto away from the dancefloor.
Wonder’s appearance on Uptown First Finale and Crack In The Pearl Pt II adds to the cosmic unreality, while Chabon’s lyrics – which could be easier to hear – are coolly condensed takes on sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Daffodils, sung by Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, alludes to futuristic narcotics and a Mysteries Of Pittsburgh-style love triangle, while Leaving Los Feliz suggests the night is drawing to an end: “The music wobbles between rapture and dread.”
This album comes with a strong sense of fantasy: authors can be rock stars, “unknowns” can become known and Stevie Wonder is right over there. What is solid, however, is Ronson’s ability to throw a swell party. In the world of Uptown Special, everyone’s on the A-list.
For an interview with Mark Ronson about his new album, read the new MOJO magazine, on sale in the UK and online from Tuesday, January 27.
Watch Daffodils featuring Kevin Parker...