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Mark Ronson is the epitome of everything that is wrong in the music industry: privileged background, famous connections, celebrity status. He’s carved himself a quiff shaped niche out of building a recording career on the foundations of other artists' talent. His debut, Here Comes The Fuzz, was touted by Jay-Z and featured his famous friends from his days djing in NYC; Version polluted every wedding and bar mitzvah with the trumpet-rape of classic tracks sung by another raft of established and up and coming artists. And, he gave the world Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen. Like the popular kid in school who you’d like to think is now stacking cans of spam in Tescos, has a permanent claw from playing too much Xbox and is living with his mum, but actually is sickeningly successful, loaded and shagging around – Ronson is everything you want to hate. So, it makes it more annoying that his third album, Record Collection, is actually pretty good.
It’s clear that with this record he’s keen to shed his much critique past and reinvent himself as a credible artist: bleaching his trademark quiff into a something that papa smurf would be proud of and shooting a recent NME cover showing him breaking the trumpets that gained him notoriety. Instead of raiding Sixties soul he’s jumped forward a couple of decades, cutting up Kraftwerk synths with the Eighties hip hop beats that littered his debut. The same familiar faces are there: Q-tip, Ghostface Killah and Alex Greenwal. But yet again he’s pillaging the latest talent in town: there’s MNDR, The Drums’ Jonathan Pierce and ex-Pipette Rose Elinor Dougall. With this much artistic acumen on board even Jedward couldn’t fuck up.
‘Bang Bang Bang’ is a killer opener with MNDR’s chewing gum sneer clashing against Q-tip’s cool refrain as buzzing synths are grounded by the swaggered beats. Throughout the album, it’s clear that keyboards have replaced trumpets as Ronson’s instrument of choice: ‘You Gave Me Nothing’, written by Jonathan Pierce, wouldn’t be out of place on the Human League’s Dare! – Rose Elliot Dougall and Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt stage their break-up against blasted chords that drop into a drum break before a classic Eighties fade out. ‘Glass Mountain Trust’ juxtaposes hot and cold melodies: icy and controlled synths jostle for attention with Djangelo passionate soul. The record’s also broken up by three separate synth instrumental interludes. ‘Colour Of Krumar’, Circuit Breaker and Missing Words sound like being stuck in a cosmic lift with a mash-up of Visage and Kraftwerk being pumped through the air vents.
But there are reflections to Ronson’s past: ‘Ride My Bike’ written by The Zutons’ Dave McCabe and featuring The View’s Kyle Falconer has an innocent subject matter and uncharacteristically clear and soulful vocals from Falconer that wouldn’t be too out of place sitting next to Winehouse on Version. ‘Introducing The Business’ harks back to Ronson’s debut: starting with low and dirty vocals, it’s pure hip-hop with Pill paraphrasing Roots Manuva shouting, “witness the hipness” as the urgent strings in a minor give it the grandioseness of Kanye West’s ‘Jesus Walks’.
One merit of Record Collection is that Ronson mixes and matches sounds and textures and artists who wouldn’t even be in the same genre together on iTunes. Testimony to this is standout track ‘Somebody To Love Me’, which was written by Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears, Cathy Dennis, ex- Dirty Pretty Things’ Anthony Rossomando, and Andrew Wyatt. White boy soul is mixed with discordant steel drums and trip hop beats and Boy George’s lead vocal lends a mature gravitas, his voice grown into a more learned and a passionate husk with age.
The album sees Ronson making his vocal debut on ‘Lose it (In The End’) with Ghostface Killah and title track, ‘Record Collection’ penned by the Kaiser Chiefs, Nick Hodgson. Despite his transatlantic upbringing, he has a quintessentially English vocal, but it’s nothing remarkable – despite sounding like a more plummey Ray Davies, putting himself alongside Ghostface Killah was a mistake as he's practically pummelled into the ground. And in fact ‘Record Collection' is deplorable in every way, a tongue-in-cheek take on the tabloid spin on Ronson’s life, as he whines: “I drive round cities in a chariot and get preferential treatment at the Marriott, but the truth is that I’m naked underneath these clothes”. It cries poor little rich boy with Nick Hodgon’s nasally tones only rubbing salt in this self-inflicted wound.
Record Collection is an accomplished piece of work, but you have to wonder whether Ronson’d be able to achieve something of a similar magnitude and quality if he was left alone in a recording studio; no guests, no help, no connections. However, if you consider Ronson as less of an artist and more of a collective like The Raconteurs, Gorillaz, or Monsters Of Folk- he did want to just be called the Business International before his record company intervened – it’s all much less offensive.
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