Welcome to Junk Mail, where a few Music Times staffers email back-and-forth about each week's biggest release throughout the work day. This week, Carolyn Menyes, Kyle Dowling and Caitlin Carter chat about Mark Ronson's new album Uptown Special. Feel free to join the conversation in the comments section, and check back next week for more.
Carolyn Menyes: Two weeks in and we're finally arriving at our first Junk Mail of 2015. Welcome back, everybody! Yay.
So, Mark Ronson's Uptown Special. This was one of my most anticipated releases of the new year. "Uptown Funk," the album's lead single was my favorite pop song of 2014 and when Ronson performed "Feel Right" on Saturday Night Live with Mystikal -- I just ~knew~ this album was going to be fire.
And, I'm slightly disappointed. We heard all the best songs from this album last year. Uptown Special, besides a few crazy diamond gems, is shockingly boring. Which is something I NEVER would have guessed from its singles.
Am I alone in this?
Kyle Dowling: #JunkMail2015! I'm thrilled to read that you were a wee bit disappointed in Senor Ronson's album. After hearing "Uptown Funk" - which I loved from the second I heard the first note - I was pretty excited for this junk mail. Sadly, after a listen, I found myself disappointed as well. The upbeat tracks were great, catchy and totally fun, but the rest was just ... well, yeah ... boring. Bummer.
Caitlin Carter: I think I'm in the same boat. The whole album was set up for success. Just a quick glance at the featured artists (and not even going into producers, writers, etc.) you would've thought this album would be amazing. However, I don't think it lived up to the hype (at least the hype I had for it). "Uptown Funk" was awesome and so was "Feel Right" -- loved hearing from Mystikal again.
The rest of the tracks just felt like a soundtrack to some throwback film. Nothing surprising, exciting or engaging. It was not horrible by any means, but nothing outstanding or innovative. I kept waiting for some of these songs to launch into Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street" based on their structure.
CM: Yeah, part of me thinks I should have known better when I saw the tracklisting and realized that Tame Impala's Kevin Parker was on three songs. I should have known that Ronson would have gone for that dreamy feel on this album.
It just feels deceiving. He gave us two insanely catchy, intense singles and then this album is so dull. And I don't mean to diss Ronson or even Parker fully. I actually think they're preview track "Daffodils" is one of Uptown Special's more successful songs. The bassline in that song is so actually groovy. That song is a good blend of the funk that Mars brought to the picture and the ethereal thing going on in the rest of the album.
KD: The funk parts of the album are undoubtedly great and the Beatles-esque guitar part on the intro of "In Case of Fire" was very cool as well. Those upbeat tracks really did it for me but the rest just fell flat. And I'd agree, while "Daffodils" isn't my favorite track on Uptown Special, the bass is rather great.
"Uptown Funk" is a great, great, great song and I was just really hoping for more of that. Sadly, we can't all be Bruno Mars.
CC: "Leaving Los Feliz" also sounded very Beatles-esque to me. Stevie Wonder's harmonica on "Crack in the Pearl, Pt. 2" was pretty cool, and that song was solid, but again felt like a remake of something I'd already heard before. Ronson is obviously a major fan-boy of artists from this era, and though his homage seems earnest, it doesn't do much to bring new life into the sound.
CM: The Beatles thing is lost on me, except a bit on the guitar work. "Leaving Los Feliz" is actually one of my least favorite songs on the album. It tries to have a bump in the instrumentation but the bare bones and the vocals are so dull and dragging that it's more effective than Sleepytime Tea.
Ronson seemed very stuck on that melody -- it also opens and closes Uptown Special, but it's this really special blend of cheesy and boring and the vocals are weird and high. Non, merci.
Part of me thinks, like, the world doesn't deserve an album full of "Uptown Funk"s. We don't deserve it.
KD: Deserve it, we may not ... but I still want it! I just want to dance...
I would disagree on "Leaving Los Feliz" - I very much liked that track. Maybe not as much as some others but it's probably up in my top three (maybe four). Speaking of top tracks ... what songs DID the two of you enjoy?
CC: I liked "Uptown Funk" and "Feel Right" as I mentioned earlier as well as "Leaving Los Feliz" and the idea of "Crack in the Pearl, Pt. 2." There wasn't much else I was feeling strongly about one way or another. [INSERT QUOTE ABOUT APATHY BEING THE OPPOSITE OF ART].
CM: You just got real existential, Caitlin. This is more than I signed up for in a Junk Mail.
Yeah, it's also easier for me to talk about how effective this album is as a lullaby than for me to say what I'm excited about. Actually, you know the theme song to the movie Grease? This album sounds exactly like that. And like, I can listen to that at the top of my VHS tape, but the real meat of that movie is "Grease Lightning," not the credits song. Ronson should've taken a note from John Travolta. (I don't even know what I'm saying anymore.)
So, what do I like? I will say that triple punch at the top of the album of "Feel Right," "Uptown Funk" and "I Can't Lose" is pretty golden. It's then followed up by the totally decent track "Daffodils." If Uptown Special was more like that lineup, shoot, we'd be in for an all-time classic record here. It's why I'm sad today -- we had so much potential. :(
KD: Getting deep in 2015!
If I were Mark Ronson, I would have made the below adjustments to the tracklist:
01. “Feel Right”
02. “Uptown Funk”
03. “I Can’t Lose” (ONLY the first minute)
04. “Uptown Funk”
06. “Uptown Funk"
07. “In Case of Fire”
08. “Uptown Funk"
09. “Leaving Los Feliz”
10. “Uptown Funk”
11. “Uptown Funk
CM: Needs more "Uptown Funk," tbh.
CC: Pretty spot on.