2014 was most definitely a dominant year for pop music, with some stellar releases from the likes of Pharrell, Kylie Minogue, George Michael, Shakira and Taylor Swift but also some pretty shocking and cringeworthy releases from the likes of Iggy Azalea (‘Fancy’ being arguably the worst song of 2014 in this writer’s opinion), the autotune nightmare of Sam Smith‘s ‘Money On My Mind’, THAT Disney song that shall not be mentioned, and Meghan Trainor‘s song about low end frequency (NOTE – this writer’s opinion is merely but his own, and does not share the view of others!).
But later on in November of 2014 came an unashamedly funk-ridden diamond in the rough in the form of ‘Uptown Funk’ by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars. A song of such catchy foot-tapping, finger-clicking, singalong greatness (which nods heavily to the influential likes of Rick James, Michael Jackson, and War) that it would embed itself in to the senses of every listener worldwide, but in the best possible way. Even though the muppets at The X-Factor tried to release it before the original (which is naughty in every aspect), Mark Ronson’s original version was rush released in the wake of this, and what a terrific idea that was. ‘Uptown Funk’ was one of the best singles of 2014 – pop music or in general. But this led to another speculation, this being Mark Ronson’s fourth studio album Uptown Special – his first in five years.
Uptown Special is a surprisingly short yet sweet album that has some rather awesome and notable guest appearances from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Bruno Mars, Mystikal, Kevin Parker, and Jeff Bhasker to name a few. But even with its host of terrific guest appearances, smooth production, and at times genius songwriting, it does not save the album’s inconsistency. Whilst Uptown Special has some incredible songs including ‘Uptown Funk’, the feverishly fun ‘Feel Right’ with Mystikal – which leans towards the 70’s soul and funk of James Brown and Curtis Mayfield, and the blissed out ‘Daffodils’ featuring Kevin Parker, the entire record feels somewhat misguided and lost.
In all fairness, there is not one bad song on here. Yes there are some far weaker impacting songs such as ‘I Can’t Lose’, ‘Leaving Los Feliz’, and ‘In Case Of Fire’, but Uptown Special does not necessarily feel like an album, more so like a funk and soul inspired mixtape. If the album were a mixtape, one would suggest that it would make certain listeners more understanding of its flow and consistency, whereas as a concept album (if there is any form of loose concept) it does not quite fit right.
Musically speaking, not only does Ronson go for the funk and soul inspired grooves and melodies that truly make this album stand out but he also implements elements of modern electro and highly compressed fuzz guitar on a couple of songs. This arguably makes some songs sound a little tacky and disposable and essentially ruins what could have been a solid funk and soul based album. Which is indeed rather frustrating, purely because Uptown Special has a ton of potential, but its initial shot in the right direction is far less impacting than initially conceived.
All criticisms aside, Uptown Special is essentially yet another critical showcase and demonstration to Mark Ronson’s unmatched potential as one of the world’s hottest producers and musicians. It will go on to be one of 2015’s biggest selling albums without a shadow of a doubt, but whether it will be an album that critics will hail in their top ten of the year remains to be seen. A solid album which is full to the brim with wondrous groove and sublime melody but frustratingly finds itself a little misguided in the process. Which is a shame because if this was not the issue, Uptown Special could well have been one of the albums of 2015.