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Mark Ronson – Uptown Special

December marks the time of year where we play catch up at Mildly Pleased. This means a lot of reviews of movies, music, and TV from months ago. Why anyone wants to know about them now is a good question. Anyways, here’s a review of a little something released all the way back in January. Enjoy.

About a week ago, my best gal and I went to Crossroads Mall to browse Half Price Books and spend my Starbucks gift card. What we didn’t realize until we arrived is it was Open Mic night. If you’ve never been to the Crossroads Mall in Bellevue, WA, its a big indoor shopping complex with a stage. Most of the time this stage is occupied by old dudes playing boogie woogie blues rock or if it’s a Saturday morning, Pirate bands. But this night the stage belonged to a father and son performing acoustic cover songs. Their opening number? You guessed it.

It was the whitest thing I had ever seen, but it did get me thinking. Only a few songs before some gray-haired dude was up on the same stage banging out Lennon and McCartney tunes, and now here’s “Uptown Funk.” It’s a standard now. Which is impressive for a song barely a year old. Even more impressive to me is how much it has overshadowed the album it originated from. Did you even know the name of the album before reading this review?

There’s nothing lamer than saying, “I knew about this song before it was cool,” but I knew about this song before it was cool. Which was for about five seconds. What did it for me was Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ appearance on SNL back in November 2014. I don’t think the appearance generated much buzz. Probably because everyone was like, “Who da fuq Mark Ronson?” Also, Bruno Mars was only present for the first number. The second number, “Feel Right” was performed by N’awlins (the cool way to say New Orleans) raised rapper Mystikal. A few months later, the album “Uptown Special” dropped and the lead single “Uptown Funk” exploded. The following year you couldn’t (and still can’t) go anywhere without running into it. Sporting events, bars, grocery stores, indoor shopping center open mic nights, and if the original version is too raunchy for your liking, you can always catch the “clean version” on good ‘ol Radio Disney.

“Uptown Funk” is the rare song popular among every demographic. Not only have I seen it performed by a nine year old in front of a crowd of grinning geezers, I have sold who knows how many copies at Barnes and Noble to baby boomers. The conversation usually goes like this:

Baby Boomer: Where’s the new album by Bruno Mars? You know, the one with “Funkytown?”
Me: You mean “Uptown Funk?”
Baby Boomer: Uhh…
Me: It’s on this album, Uptown Special, by Mark Ronson. Bruno Mars is only on the one track.
Baby Boomer: Mark what?
Me: He’s a producer.
Baby Boomer: Bruno Mars is only on one song?
Me: Yeah, the other tracks have people like Stevie Wonder and… (I stop listing artists as I’m sure the Baby Boomer will not recognize any of the other names.) um, and other people.
Baby Boomer (disappointed): Guess I’ll take it.

They are right to be disappointed. Bruno Mars is one of the most charismatic artists around these days. He’s a hard guy to hate and a perfect fit for Ronson’s eclectic tastes. Yet he only makes up 4:29 seconds of this almost forty minute album. The only other artists of note here are a few snippets of Stevie Wonder and a triple dose of a semi-conscious Kevin Parker. That’s right, there’s more Tame Impala on Uptown Special than Bruno Mars.

I’m going to blindly assume Ronson only had Bruno for so much time, so he saved the best for him. The rest of the album was probably more collaborative and yet far less entertaining. I mean, I love Tame Impala, but Kevin Parker feels like he’s sleepwalking through these breezy yacht rock tunes. I’m not sure who Andrew Wyatt or Jeff Bhasker are and maybe there’s a good reason for that. The only other songs with a pulse are the synthy, “I Can’t Lose” featuring Keyone Starr and the aforementioned James Brown tribute “Feel Right” from Mystikal. I can only imagine if the latter was as big a hit. Let me just say it would be the greatest thing in history to see a nine year old and his dad sing, “Feel right in this motherf*cker” at an open mic night.

I don’t blame Mark Ronson for anything. As an instrumentalist and producer, he has done an amazing job introducing modern audiences to classic-sounding R&B. This is the guy who produced Back to Black after all. Needless to say he knows his shit. But Ronson is really only as good as his collaborators, and it takes a certain type to bring out the best in him. Had this entire album been co-piloted by Bruno Mars, maybe more people would be less disappointed buying it. But because it doesn’t, it’s just like, a bunch of stuff that happened. Definitely a curiosity for those who prefer the sounds of yesteryear, but not essential listening. As for the Alvin and the Chipmunk’s cover “Uptown Munk? That’s essential listening.

Favorite Tracks: “Feel Right,” “I Can’t Lose,” “Uptown Funk”