I woke up on this particular Tuesday thinking it was a pretty safe bet that I would listen to the new Mark Ronson album, Uptown Special, on repeat all day. I would listen to it while reading about last night’s college football championship, while catching up on emails, while chopping away on those TPS reports. I’d listen to it while still wondering, who thought this was a good idea…
A tractor…on pavement? Come on. That doesn’t make any sense.
Oh, the drivers are wearing bikinis? I hadn’t noticed.
And as the day started out, I did listen to Uptown Special. It was easily one of the most anticipated albums of the year for me, which I realize is kind of a ridiculous statement because the year is so young. But regardless, I was really excited to hear it. “Uptown Funk” aside, the other two songs I had heard from the album, “Feel Right” and “Daffodils” were both really good. That kind of lead up had to mean good things for the album. Plus there was the promise of Stevie Wonder and I love Stevie Wonder. In the early going of this particular Tuesday, I assumed I was set.
I kind of assumed incorrectly.
“Uptown Special” is a good album. I listened to it two times in a row right out of the gate. This is relatively easy to bang out because of the length of the album, which is not long. It’s one of those albums that while listening to it, you find yourself on the sixth song before you even know what happened. The album also seems to drop in bunches- as in the first two songs seem like buddies, followed by the next four who roll deep together. Then there is a slight break with the seventh song, “Crack in the Pearl, which is more of an interlude soundscape than an actual song. After that, it’s three songs back to back that all have a similar vibe to them- seventies Steely Dan-like funk, before the album exits stage left with a cool, quick outro.
So the breakdown…
Given Ronson’s DJ past, an album set up like this makes sense. And the album definitely has a DJ vibe to it, but not DJ in a Alesso or DJ Snake or Skrillex sense, but DJ in a hey it’s a party and that dude is spinning completely appropriate music sense. Now of the groupings, the second grouping, the one containing tracks 3 through 6, is easily my favorite. This group contains the three previously released tracks, as well as another fun little ditty featuring southern lady singer, Keyone Starr. It reeks of eighties joy in all the best possible ways. “I Can’t Lose?” More like we can’t lose. Nope. Sorry. Strike that from the record.
The album is short. I mentioned that earlier and I mention it again. I wish it was longer, almost like a mix tape. Twenty tunes, none more than three minutes, all in the style of the ones on Uptown Special would be ideal. Not going to complain, though. Maybe instead, I’ll just wistfully long. A kid can dream, right?
After listening to Uptown Special twice and kicking around the idea to run through it a third time, I didn’t necessarily feel the urge to do so. And this was kind of surprising. In the past, when a new album is released by a band or artist I really like, I don’t have much of a problem burning through it a few times in a row. I think it’s a good way to really digest it. Yet with this one, after two times, I was kind of okay about things and thinking about moving on, which I did- to the Old 97’s of all people. The rustic alt-country sound of Old 97’s doesn’t even chill in the same area code of Ronson, so it was an interesting move. I then thought I’d go back to the album after a short break, but instead listened to Spoon and White Denim’s recent performance on Austin City Limits. White Denim is kind of fun. It was then I went back to Uptown Special.
Short-lived, though. I got distracted by a St. Paul and the Broken Bones’ performance on Letterman last night, which then prompted me to listen to the band’s great debut album, Half the City. Then it dawned on me– today was dictated by Uptown Special in thought more than in action.
What’s the point of this? Why not just straight up review Uptown Special or not even review it at all? It’s not like there isn’t a shortage of reviews out there or interviews with Ronson to fill that void.
The point is that I’m disappointed in Uptown Special but not in terms of how good it is, but more in terms of how much I thought would love it. Because I thought I would love it, but I at best only like it quite a lot. It may grow on me, it might not. But I thought it would blow me away and be all I listened to for the rest of the week. I don’t see that happening. Hell, right now I’m listening to Kongos while writing about Ronson. Kongos are pretty dope by the way.
None of this isn’t an indictment on Ronson as much as it is possibly more of an indictment on me and my penchant for hyping things up in my head too much. Uptown Special is the musical equivalent of American Hustle, the David O. Russell movie that came out last year. I went into that movie 100% expecting to be knocked on my ass by it. I had already penciled it in as one of the best movies of the year before even seeing it. And then I did see it and then I did walk away thinking, yeah it was okay. Not great, not terrible- just good. And there’s nothing bad or wrong about something being good. Something being good is totally cool. Interstellar was good. New Year’s was good. The football game last night was good. Good is only problematic when that thing that ends up being good is pre-ranked as great. Then the good doesn’t seem as good as it should be. Which is the case with Uptown Special. It’s not great, it’s good, which seems like a negative, even though it isn’t.
Good is good regardless of pre-conceived notions or expectations.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
It could be shitty.
Which then, well that wouldn’t be good at all.
Oh and by the way, I enjoyed American Hustle much more the second time I saw it than I did the first time. So, take that for what it’s worth. And maybe even apply that to Uptown Special.
Mark Ronson top photo: Rolling Stone
Bachelor photo: ABC