Mark Ronson struck gold with Amy Winehouse, by delivering genuine, quality music, usually backed by the production of himself, Salaam Remi, and and the instrumentation of the Dap Kings. This became a new movement in music, which took off heavier in the U.K. than in the U.S., creating a unique fusion of classic funk-soul vibes with modern vocalists. He demonstrated this further on Version, his second solo LP which showcased a series of rock and pop covers by today’s generation of (mostly British) artists. One of the greatest tracks on that LP was “Stop Me”, Daniel Merriweather’s epic cover of the Morrissey classic.
Daniel is signed to Ronson’s Allido imprint, and with Love & War, he constructs what could be looked at as a spiritual sequel to Amy’s Back To Black. The album saw huge success in the U.K., grabbing a platinum plaque (there, 300,000+ sales), fully backed by Ronson’s production and the same type of rare-groovesque live instrumentation found on Back To Black and Version.
However something about Love & War doesn’t quite hit the mark, like it’s unofficial predecessors. For instance, “Impossible” is a surprisingly redundant track that is virtually all-hook, more comparable to the type of formulaic drivel what is found in today’s American R&B hits. Another misstep is the bold interpolation of “California Dreamin’”, on “Could You”, which shamelessly jacks The Mamas and The Papas 60′s folk rock hit, for virtually the same type of song, but with slight alterations. Sampling creatively is one thing, especially when taking it to a different genre (i.e. “hip-hop”), but jacking within the same musical realm is more like stealing.
It’s not all bad, in fact far from it. The album opens up with the gorgeous ode to NYC, “For Your Money”, an equally dope, but somewhat bleaker take on the subject than what Jay-Z and Alicia Keys had to offer. The album’s lead single, “Change” finds Merriweather outside of self-pity, with a perfectly arranged collection of Isaac Hayes inspired pianos, rolling drums, and a massive horn section, not to mention perfectly delivered verses from Wale. “Water and A Flame” is also well executed, finding a lovelorn Daniel joining up with Adele, filling in for Winehouse with equally breathy, alcohol soaked vocals. The climactic “Not Giving Up” finds Daniel channeling that broken-heart into a passionate, cinematic offering.
While we can recognize this as well produced, well thought out music, Love & War‘s moments with greatness are present, but few and far in between. At times the album fails to capture the heart of the listener as it so badly wants to. We see the talent in both Merriweather and Ronson, perhaps next time it just needs to be harnessed right.
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