First off, forget everything you know about Mark Ronson. Usually people get one chance to make it big, one chance to present themselves to the masses as who they are and what they do. And if after that chance, people decide that they don’t like you, that’s usually it - especially in major label music world. Not to say that people didn’t like Mark Ronson’s 2004 Elektra Records debut, Here Comes The Fuzz, but it simply didn’t hit. Despite a pair of excellent hip-hop singles (“Ooh Wee” feat. Ghostface & Nate Dogg and “On The Run” feat. Mos Def and M.O.P. ), the album sort of pigeonholed Mark into that category of “famous deejay who also happens to make beats for rappers”. But forget about that.
The last year has been pretty exciting for Mark Ronson. He’s produced a pair of LP’s for two anti-divas by the names of Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse, both which have seen huge success in the commercial and cutting edge music markets. The remarkable thing about this is, that he has totally abandoned the formulaic approach to making pop music, and has instead employed NYC funk revival outfit, The Dap Kings, to lend their snapping drums, horny horns, and lo-fi basslines to back said anti-divas. And judging from the international success of both artists, it’s worked tremendously.
Which brings us to Version - the second album from Mark Ronson, but the first one that has everyone paying very close attention. Perhaps this is because hot off the success of Amy and Lily, he has introduced the world to another rising star, one Daniel Merriweather (not to be confused with a certain Handsome Boy Modeling School alum). Daniel was actually first introduced on Here Comes The Fuzz, but he’s making huge waves in the U.K. next to Mark with a number one single called “Stop Me” - which is a beautifully funky cover of a classic song by The Smiths (complete with added string section). This is the first single from Version, and the rest of the LP follows this same formula of covering classic rock and pop songs and turning them into “Motown ’76 versions”, as Ronson puts it.
The album opens with an aggressively energetic re-imagining Coldplay’s “God Put A Smile Upon Your Face”, handled strictly by the Daptone Horns (who provide much of the album’s live funk instrumentation). Lilly Allen takes last year’s breakout Kaiser Chief’s breakout hit, “Oh My God”, extracting the indie edge and replacing it with her cool demeanor. Britney Spears’ “Toxic” takes on a whole new lifeform as cockney accented vocalist Tiggers adds some much needed substance to the original song, while an uncredited Ol’ Dirty Bastard turns the song into an ode to S.T.D.’s, with hilarious vaulted verses. Amy Winehouse joins ?uestlove on drums for a cover of The Zutons’ “Valerie”, here almost taking on a homo-erotic subtext. And of course, Ronson’s supreme cover of Radiohead’s “Just” by Phantom Planet from last year’s “Exit Music” compilation resurfaces here. To keep things exciting the album is sprinkled by Mark and the Dap-Kings’ funky little interludes.
Even if you aren’t familiar with the source material, Ronson’s innovative pairing of raw funk backdrops with more or less all-British vocalists lends an entirely new sound that hasn’t been heard much elsewhere, and it will definitely provide satisfaction. Chances are most listeners will recognize a few of the covers on here, making Version perhaps the most accessible and enjoyable funk revival record since Breakestra’s The Live Mix Part 2. 2005 was Gorillaz, 2006 was Gnarls, but 2007 belongs to Ronson’s Version.
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