Mark Ronson's status as a solo musician is a topic frequently subjected to scrutiny. After all, he's known as a 'celebrity D.J.' and comes from a famous family (sis Samantha is Lindsay Lohan's infamous lesbian dalliance and other sis Charlotte is a successful fashion designer). Although Ronson relies heavily on the famous talent he showcases, his own musical prowess never wavers.
Like a scientist, extracting the best of each artist he works with, Ronson helped thrust Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen into the international spotlight, producing their debut albums and featuring them prominently on his own breakthrough record: 2007's Version.
On his new album entitled Record Collection and released September 24th, Ronson is accompanied by his new band the Business Intl. Ronson continues playing to the strengths of his featured artists, while switching up his usual musical style. Gone are the signature Dap Horns. Instead, Record Collection is more electronic dance party. Full of synths and hip-hop ready beats, the album plays like something you would hear at an '80s house party, recontexualized for the present, with guest spots from Q-Tip, Ghostface Killah and former Phantom Planet front man Alex Greenwald to name a few.
Album opener and first single “Bang Bang Bang,” features an electro vintage '80s riff, with the juxtaposition of Q-Tip's rhymes and the feminine vocals provided by MNDR's Rose Elinor Dougall. The overly processed, old-school beat is bolstered by a heavy dose of irony, but who cares when the track is so catchy it's impossible not to nod your head along?
The sweet, soulful and environmentally-conscious “Ride My Bike,” featuring vocals by the View's Kyle Falconer, would be at home alongside the old-school '60s vibe featured on Version, but the short, kinetic rap by Spank Rock adds some grit, taking the song in a new direction.
Standout track “Somebody to Love” features Miike Snow's Andrew Wyatt and Boy George(!) and the swinging bass line is down right hypnotic. The pleading lyrics “I want somebody to be nice/see the boy I was once was in my eyes/nobody's gonna save my life” are delivered with an interesting mixture of vulnerability and swag.
“Glass Mountain” features D'Angelo (remember him?) and the R&B veteran's alternation between a guttural bass and soulful wail sounds a hell of a lot like Cee-Lo. The track is all over the place in terms of genre, somewhere stuck between the '80s synth vibe and a somewhat convincing Gnarls Barkley impersonation.
The title track features vocals from Ronson himself, Duran Duran's Simon Lebon and rapper Wiley and comfortably pairs Robbie Williams style Euro-pop with a grimier hip-hop feel. The track flies through multiple different vocal tempos, with a ping-ponging techno beat sliding sneakily underneath.
“Hey Boy” featuring Rose Elinor Dougall, showcases her gorgeous and heavily British-accented voice and a verse by NYC based rapper Theophilus London. The track bursts with sincerity and a scattered drum beat, making it pure pop candy. “The Night Last Night” trades off vocals between Dougall and Alex Greenwald, while the track's beautiful string section and scratchy drums really soar, ending the album off on a sweet note. Ronson's characteristic instrumental interludes are sprinkled throughout the album: little bursts of sound, full of reverb, guitar and more retro synths.
The album doesn't make quite the same statement as Version's '60s soul and Dap Horns did, but it does have it's own little spark that burns slowly at first until firmly worming its way into your consciousness. The album has already debuted at #2 on the UK charts. If nothing else, Record Collection proves that Ronson can orchestrate a contagious blend of pop, hip-hop and '80s throwback that will easily have a place on cool kid party playlists everywhere.