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Album Review

You know that a producer has become a star in his own right when he's given a contract to put out an album under his own name — but, really, if any producer deserved his own vanity project in 2007, it's Mark Ronson, the man behind much of the two best British pop albums in 2006, Lily Allen's Alright, Still and Amy Winehouse's Back to Black. Ronson, of course, had been a fixture in the N.Y.C. and London DJ scenes long before this, and had even released an album called Here Comes the Fuzz in 2003 that found him enlisting a cast of American hipsters — everyone from Ghostface Killah and Mos Def to Rivers Cuomo, Jack White, and Saturday Night Live comedian Jimmy Fallon — to front tracks he crafted. Ronson keeps that same blueprint for his second album, Version, but he sets his sights on the U.K., the country that finally turned him into a star thanks to those Allen and Winehouse productions, bringing in Lily and Amy and a parade of modern Brit stars to sing over his tracks. This time around, Ronson has ginned up the original concept with a better concept: to cover a bunch of contemporary British pop classics and modern hits, ranging from the Jam's "Pretty Green" to Maxïmo Park's "Apply Some Pressure." All of the tunes have been run through Ronson's grinder, turning them into splashy, clever, but not-quite-campy blends of old-school hip-hop, '60s soul (equal parts Motown and Stax), postmodern pop, and classic kitsch, so it sounds like a modern update on a late-'60s variety show. Since Ronson has a distinct musical viewpoint — one that's heavy on style, of course; one that's designed for club play but emphasizes melody and feel over beats — Version holds together as a proper album, but that's primarily because Ronson turns everything into a soundtrack for an absurd retro-fantasia of a Northern soul club, one where the Tamla beat never stops pounding even as it morphs into rolling hip-hop loops, one where the horns never stop blaring, one where the pop hooks are as prominent as the groove. Whether you're into club music or pop, it's easy to be seduced by Ronson's fantasy, and Version sure is fun as it plays the first time through, and several of his reinventions are giddy, devious delights, as when he finally injects some humor into Coldplay by turning "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face" into an instrumental fueled by the Daptone Horns, or doing a similar deed to Radiohead's "Just" (here sung by Phantom Planet), or how the Smiths' "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before" is turned into a soul medley with the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On" as sung by Daniel Merriweather. That latter track in particular is a neat trick, but it's like the bulk of Version in microcosm: the imagination and skill is dazzling at first but subsequent spins reveal it as more style than substance, particularly because Merriweather isn't a sensitive interpreter and his affectless delivery becomes grating upon repeated plays, turning this into a shallow display of production virtuosity. Too much of Version is like this — great ideas shackled by bland vocalists — to make it a lasting pleasure, but in the moment it's a great party record anchored by two brilliant moments: Lily Allen's take on the Kaiser Chiefs' "Oh My God" and Amy Winehouse's flat-out stupendous reworking of the Zutons' "Valerie," which turns it into a lost Motown classic. Not for nothing are these two highlights from the artists who made Mark Ronson a star — not only do their aesthetics match his, but they're the only ones with enough charisma to overpower his showy tracks and make them into their own.

Customer Reviews

An Aquired Taste

If you're not into jazz (ie Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Eta James) you won't appreciate what Mark Ronson has done here. He's injected each song with jazz from decades past. Think Paul Anka but not so expected and less kitchy. The cover songs are for the most part from pop culture icons in music, but Ronson brings that old jazz flavor sound to each. If you like the Amy Winehouse sound on her album then you'll like this album. This is what I would consider a non-distracting album. Meaning you can play it as background music at a cocktail party, while cleaning around the house, working at the office or driving someone to the airport. It's not fast enough to work out to, but it's just enough to tap your foot too. I would reccommend it on the sole fact that everyone should expand their music collection. This album will/should have you searching iTunes for songs by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Eta James, Cole Porter, Nina Simone, Fats Domino, Peggy Lee, and all the great jazz vocals. Njoy!

Covering the Bases - And the Brass!

Mark Ronson has had success producing breakout artists such as Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse and developing artists for his own label (such as the rapper Ryhmefest) - not to mention a great career as a DJ. The horns-heavy Version (Ronson's 2nd album) has already had some major success in the UK - the single "Stop Me" (a cover that brilliantly blends The Smiths and The Supremes) has been a hit for quite some time. Blending hip-hop, soul, jazz and the kitchen sink, Ronson worked with a diverse group of artists to update some classics and give some contemporary tunes and new spin. I've been listening to this album for awhile and fall in love with it more and more! I'm a fan of cover albums in general and love when an artist (or DJ or producer or whatever you would like to call him) can make someone else's track their own - while retaining the original integrity of the track, of course. Ronson and Lily Allen's cover of the Kaiser Chief's "Oh My God" is one of my favorites and is poppier than the original but is almost imcomprable as it might as well be a completely different song. Other incredible change is the cover of Radiohead's "Just", which features the lead singer of "the OC theme song band", Phantom Planet - it's the track that initially drew me to listen to the rest of the album and is still one of my favorites to play on repeat. And I know I can't help but love the twisted and stirred cover of Britney Spears' "Toxic" that is mixed in with Ol' Dirty Bastard - it's one of many songs on the album that make me envision Ronson the DJ, mixing the tracks on some turntables and getting the crowd moving. I've also come to adore the completely transformed cover of Ryan Adams' "Amy" which brings out the song's inner pop and makes it shine that the brass horns that accompany Kenna's voice. Clearly, I believe this is a great album with diverse influences that I hope does as well in the US as it has across the pond!

This Version Rocks!

The mega-hot producer behind Amy Winehouse's breakthrough "Back to Black" and Lily Allen's debut is back again, this time, with an album of covers. Combining retro motown-cool with a modern hip-hop twist, tracks like "Stop Me," "Oh My God" and the super-funky version of Britney Spears' "Toxic" are instant classics, while the Amy Winehouse featured "Valarie" is probably the stand out track here. From the sound of this collection, this guy is just getting started and he's here to stay!


Born: September 4, 1975 in Notting Hill, London, England

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Superstar DJ and producer Mark Ronson has earned both praise and popular success for his throwback, soul- and funk-influenced work with such diverse artists as Ghostface Killah, Amy Winehouse, Boy George, and Bruno Mars. The stepson of guitarist Mick Jones of Foreigner, Ronson spent the first eight years of his life growing up in England. Having played guitar and drums from an early age, it wasn't until moving to New York City with his mother that he discovered DJ culture. At age 16, and already...
Full Bio

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Version, Mark Ronson
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