In Uptown Special, Mark Ronson embraces the sounds of early 80s disco and hip-hop, confirming his shift away from the jazz and folk covers that characterised the early part of his career.
This change in direction began with Ronson’s last album, 2010’s Record Collection, with the formation of The Business International as his accompanying band, and the introduction of a tighter electronic sound. But Ronson has now also scrapped this fixed band, instead working with a variety of different artists throughout the album.
What we are left with is a fast-paced record with different voices coming together to form a broadly optimistic end product, though one with some decadent undertones. Music is consciously very elaborate, and each song has a sense of glamour. The mood of the album is perhaps best described as David Bowie’s Young Americans meeting the 21st century.
The standout track from the album is Ronson’s collaboration with Mystikal, on “Feel Right”. With a strong but not overpowering groove, accompanied by a confident and passionately delivered rap, the song is sometimes reminiscent of James Brown.
Another highlight is Stevie Wonder’s contribution to the somewhat Bladerunner-esque opening track “Uptown’s First Finale”. With searing horn effects, the track sets the scene with a grand soundscape, effectively preparing the listener for everything that is about to become.
Despite these standouts, both of which fall in the opening third, the rest of the album has a tendency to rather blur together into one mass. What at the beginning appears to have great potential squanders some of that initial energy. The album is not bad, in fact it is quite an uplifting listen, but somehow Ronson does not quite achieve what one hopes that he might have.
With an interesting artistic direction and a few notable tracks, this album is an enjoyable listen, though never quite reaches its full promise.