Mark Ronson is one of those names which you’ll only probably recognise up till now if you scan the credits booklet of a CD. Yet as the man who’s helped propel both Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse to global success, his stock is rising and rising. Even his involvement with Robbie Williams‘ career suicide note of Rudebox couldn’t damage his reputation.
Yet there’s more to Ronson than being a DJ on New York’s hip party circuit and producer-in-demand. A few years ago, he produced Ooh Wee, one of the most infectious dance numbers you’ll ever hear, and last year he upset a whole load of Radiohead fans by reworking Just as a dance/soul number.
It’s that Radiohead cover (included here) which provides the basis for Version. The idea sounds horrific – take a whole load of much loved modern classics by bands like The Smiths, Ryan Adams, and Kaiser Chiefs and transform them into Stax-style soul songs. It may have ‘novelty’ stamped all over it, but against the odds it works.
Ronson’s connections serve him well, with a veritable galaxy of stars turning up to perform guest vocals. Amy and Lily are there of course, while Robbie contributes a rather distracted rendition of The Charlatans‘ The Only One I Know. There’s also Ol’ Dirty Bastard from the Wu Tang Clan rising from the grave to rap salaciously over Britney Spears‘ Toxic, while Maximo Park and Kasabian are both put in the rather weird version of contributing to covers of their own songs.
Like a lot of cover version albums, this is a bit hit and miss at times, but when it works, it sounds like the greatest party on Earth. Ever wanted to hear what God Put A Smile On Your Face would sound like as a horn-laden soul instrumental? Step this way. Lily Allen breathes new life into the Kaisers’ Oh My God, a song that had long outlived its original appeal due to its sheer ubiquity. The fact that it’s been available on one of Allen’s mix tapes for over a year doesn’t rob of its charm.
The definite highlight though is Amy Winehouse rampaging through Valerie by The Zutons. The original’s quirky Merseybeat pop has disappeared, to be replaced by a yearning shot of Philly soul completely dominated by Winehouse’s wonderful voice. The original was a great song – here, it’s transformed into a masterpiece. And as if he hadn’t upset enough Radiohead fans, Ronson also risks the wrath of Smiths obsessives everywhere by recasting Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before as a Massive Attack-style dramatic ballad. Luckily, it works beautifully, although it’s intriguing to wonder what Mozza will make of it.
Other moments aren’t quite as successful though – the reworking of Maximo Park’s Apply Some Pressure feels a bit pointless, with the energy of the original version all but disappeared. Ronson does fare better with Kasabian’s LSF though, the laddish swagger of the original replaced by something a whole lot more soulful. The reworking of The Jam‘s Pretty Green though is best avoided – the nursery rhyme style rapping soon proves irritating.
Version is destined to become one of the great party albums of the summer – just playing it once is guaranteed to cheer you up. There may be a few too many blaring brass sections at times, but Ronson’s superb productions skills means he just about gets away with it. One of the more intriguing albums of the year, watch out for Ronson’s star to rise even more over the next few months.