Mark Ronson is many things to many people: DJ, producer, musical connoisseur, privileged socialite or just Samantha Ronson’s brother. But, as he has consistently proven since his first album “Here Comes the Fuzz,” he is more than the sum of his parts. With “Record Collection,” Ronson and his many collaborators take a trip to the 80s. The result is a collection of fabulously catchy, immaculately produced synth-laden tracks that are each better than the next.
Ronson is best known for his 2007 album, “Version,” a series of covers produced with what became his “signature” sound — vintage, 60s pop mixed with hip-hop beats and du-wop instrumentals. His work with global superstars like Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse gave him the reputation of having a musical Midas’ touch, turning everything he touched into gold. Well, this time around, he’s dropped the divas and lost the trumpets that were ever-so present on his last album. “Record Collection” shows the drastic transition from retro du-wop sounds to synthetic 80s electro pop.
The roster of guest stars Ronson managed to recall from his expansive social Rolodex is as impressive as ever, regarding the collective talent of his collaborators. Winehouse and Allen have been replaced by somewhat lesser-known stars, like MNDR (Amanda Warner) and Rose Elinor Dougall (singer of The Pipettes). Don’t expect it to be all indie sensations here; Ronson still manages to bring out the big guns, calling on the likes of Boy George (who sings along on the achingly beautiful and passionate “Somebody to Love Me,”) Simon Le Bon (featured on the track “Record Collection”), Ghostface Killah and Q-Tip, who brings his rhyming skills to the album’s first explosively popular single “Bang Bang Bang,” already a hit in the U.K.
The greatest surprise here is the addition of Ronson’s own vocals; it’ll probably surprise most to know that Ronson has never actually sung on any of his albums, preferring to leave the vocalizing to the pros. But on tracks like “Lose It (In the End)” and “Record Collection,” he takes the mic for himself and the results are surprisingly successful and fantastically catchy. Ronson should be commended for putting his voice to the test on an album with such great singers since he leaves himself open to some potentially scathing comparisons. While it’s true that his guest stars outshine him vocally, he can obviously take credit for the final product of the album.
“Record Collection” stands out from Ronson’s considerable repertoire in that it lacks the lighthearted element of fun that made his first two albums so appealing. This isn’t to say that he’s lost that magic touch for producing addictively good, genre-melding music. Now that he is no longer relying on the poppy, mainstream input of singers like Lily Allen, the tracks have a deeper, more emotional feel to them; this is most obvious on tracks like ”Somebody to Love Me” and “You Gave Me Nothing.” The lyrical depth of most of the songs this time around is a refreshing change from the chart-topping hits he covered for “Version.” This maturity adds further depth to Ronson’s music. This time around it’s not just covers of the Smiths and Britney Spears; Ronson actually wrote music for this album and his unique touch is apparent here in more ways than just his typically slick production. There’s a certain edge to the album that was lacking on his prior efforts, and it’s a welcome change.
Mark Ronson is clearly a man with an encyclopedic knowledge of music. It’s what you would expect from a man who grew up as the son of a millionaire and a socialite, and who was best friends with Sean Lennon and the stepson of Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones. It’s obvious that he draws upon this deep love affair with music of every genre in this album. “Record Collection” is another example of Mark Ronson’s unique talent for creating unexpectedly successful collaborations between genre-spanning artists.