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Uptown Funk

by Mark Ronson
feat. Bruno Mars

This production is packed with ear–catching little arrangement features, but the thing that impresses me most is Ronson’s mastery of textural complexity. On one level, I love the way he fits multiple musical elements together like a jigsaw, so that each has room to shine without the others getting in the way. The section where the bass first enters (0:33–0:50) provides a simple case in point, with the super–wide “doh, doh, doh” BVs giving way to the “hot damn!” shout, and then that dramatic backbeat synth stab, before the cycle begins again — and, of course, all of that going on while Bruno Mars delivers his lyrics over the top. A similar pattern occurs after the house–style build–up, and causes me to shift (and, crucially, also renew) my attention more than a dozen times within the space of about 15 seconds, using the following sequence of events: brass riff (1:06); “doh, doh, doh” (1:08); brass fill (1:10); backing “ha!” (1:11); wobbulous vibrato synth pad that only now becomes properly noticeable because nothing else new is happening (1:12); “don’t believe me, just watch” (1:13); machine–gun snare/brass fill (1:14); brass riff (1:15); “doh, doh, doh” (1:17); brass fill (1:19); backing “ha!” (1:19); funktastic bass fill (1:20); “don’t believe, me just watch” (1:21).

But what sets Ronson above many of his contemporaries for me is that he doesn’t just wallow in small–scale musical bead–threading, but also maintains his grasp on the bigger picture, hitting us with many bold, broader–brush production moves too. For instance, transplanting those house–influenced build–ups into what is essentially a retro funk–pop workout is both inspired and courageous, not only unsettling the listener through the stylistic crossover, but also by fundamentally altering the nature of the groove — a considerable gamble in arrangement terms. He’s not shy with stark textural contrasts either, setting the complexity of the layered funkiness into relief both on the structural level, using frequent sections with stripped–back beat and vocals, and also from moment to moment with beautifully straightforward ‘sit up and take notice’ gestures such as the “Stop.. wait a minute!” drop at 1:32 and (easily my favourite fill of the year so far) the sudden collapse to unison at 4:08.

A worthy hit, which not only pays homage to those iconic Quincy Jones and Trevor Horn productions of the ’80s, but also deserves to hold its head high in their company.