It’s easy to understand how a listener could have conflicted feelings prior to diving into a new full length album from UK producer/songwriter Mark Ronson (now billed cryptically alongside the Business Intl.) For all his production that’s risen to the high standards of music expected for emcees like Nas and Ghostface Killah, there have been covers of The Smiths and Queens of The Stone Age, two groups whose sound bares such a signature that it might as well have a hands off policy when it comes to would-be re-interpreters.
As with his previous solo albums, Ronson spends the majority of the project’s running time with other artists, mostly vocalists from different genres, who are intended to be like-minded collaborators on board to round out whichever track he’s selected them for. Yet it’s these artists that serve to highlight how a project meant to be some sort of international cross-genre jam session can turn into a “make room at the table” rush job too forgettable to be a bomb.
With the roster assembled, Record Collection should be anything but forgettable. If not a complete success, the album could at least have been interesting if all of the contributors came out of the box full throttle and went balls-out on tracks that completely clashed with what they do best. Unfortunately, the attempt at fusion on Record Collection just comes across as tired. These vocalists at best sound swallowed by the sonic landscape they’ve been shoved into and at worst sound like Ronson’s studio was the obligatory last stop of the night after recording the world’s most epic album down the street.
When it comes to trying to find the root of this lackadaisical whiff, the only insight provided by looking at Ronson’s songs without guests (four tracks amounting to about six minutes) is that his one full instrumental should’ve been shortened to an interlude while his three interludes are too plodding to stand on their own.
Ronson’s trademark of blending the genres and backgrounds of his contributors with his own musical ideas worked well on parts of his debut Here Comes The Fuzz, notably the track “Ooh Wee” with rapper Ghostface being one of the features. Record Collection’s Ghostface collaboration “Lose It (In The End)” also featuring Alex Greenwald falls a tier below. Even though it’s catchy and one of the album’s better tracks, it’s still an example of what happens when Ronson’s formula doesn’t gel. Having Ghost on a track is like getting John Bonham to sit in on drums. If you’re not letting him pull the beat you’ll never get what you paid for. The same can be said for putting every flanger in the drop down menu on D’Angelo’s vocals before burying them on a track like “Glass Mountain Trust.”
Depending on how you look at it, it’s really good or really bad that Q-Tip and Ghostface — heavyweights who can usually rock over anything — start off Record Collection. That’s because by the time “The Bike Song,” rolls around things really start to fall apart. Even though The Cool Kids’ “Black Mags” and The Flobots’ “Handlebars” weren’t dynamic enough to define an era, they illustrated a basic principle of songwriting: less is more (especially crucial when all you’re singing about is pedal methods of transportation). Sure there’s more going on with like instruments and all that stuff on “The Bike Song,” but how important is that when you’re talking about your Schwinn? Plus, after Diplo gave Spank Rock the freedom to cut to the chase and give the order to “Put that Pussy on Me” it’s a buzzkill listening to him rap using bike-as-woman metaphors over a melody more suited for Old Navy fleeces.
The thing that Record Collection hits spot-on is your nostalgia for those artists that experimented with new sounds and ideas and weren’t afraid to fall flat on their face as long as something with a groove eventually emerged. The difference between Ronson and those artists is that their influences showed in a roundabout way or on an unconscious level that didn’t interfere with their own vision. When hearing a Mark Ronson song makes you want to go to your own record collection for that Missing Persons, Primal Scream or Tower of Power LP or even that album Duran Duran did with Timbaland and Timberlake, it’s ultimately a good thing. But when it comes to affecting the future of our bank account for something that makes us go backwards, it’s usually best to just cut out the middle man.