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Mark Ronson - Version

Mark Ronson, Version

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

WITH Version, super-producer Mark Ronson has set out to prove that pop voyeurism and experimentalism don’t have to be bad things using his own unique re-interpretive style.

Hence, he has assembled an album of spectacular cover versions featuring the likes of Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen and, erm, Robbie Williams, that deliver very alternative versions of modern classics from Coldplay, The Charlatans, Radiohead and The Smiths.

Some listeners will undoubtedly write it off almost instantly as disastrous. Others may take some convincing. But for my money, Version is a brave, bold, blast of an album that almost always gets things right. Ronson, for his part, emerges as a musical artist of the highest calibre – a music innovator whose funk-strewn re-interpretations effortlessly place themselves on the right side of cool.

As a lifelong Charlatans fan, I can probably speak for many who won’t take to Robbie Williams applying vocals to The Only One I Know – his pop style not really befitting a track that’s rooted in the baggy era. They sound particularly weak even when set against the sharp bassline and foot-shuffling beats provided by Ronson.

But it’s a rare disappointment on an album that otherwise really stands out. Opener God Put A Smile On Your Face is a horn heavy, uptempo workout that shuffles its way into your bones and gets them shaking for the duration. It’s extremely funky and totally instrumental, making it an effort that Chris Martin and co would probably be very proud of. I mean, if you’re going to re-interpret something, why not do it properly rather than merely re-hashing? Ronson adopts this as a kind of mantra for the album and the samba-style horns conjure memories of the sound pioneered by Ray Barretto.

The Kaiser Chiefs’ Oh My God follows things up in similarly emphatic style; Lily Allen applying her childlike vocals to another funky, much less manic take on an edgy punk-pop classic. It’s a radical departure from the Leeds band’s trademark sound but it somehow works – the stabs of blast and hip-hop beats working well to create a different take on the guitars of the original.

Daniel Merriweather enlivens former single Stop Me a fun, but controversial, blend of The Smiths’ Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before and The Supremes’ You Keep Me Hangin’ On, while Dirt McGirt, aka ODB, clearly has a blast spitting verse all over Britney Spears’ Toxic.

There’s a Motown vibe surrounding the extremely upbeat Valerie, a sharp take on The Zutons classic track. The intro, in particular, sounds like it might be flying into Phil Collins’ You Can’t Hurry Love before pulling things back for a workout that’s particularly suited to Winehouse’s husky new vocal style (that’s been used to such scintillating effect on her Back To Black album).

And Paul Smith ensures that Maximo Park’s Apply Some Pressure is in good hands. It’s probably not the sharpest cut on the LP but Ronson’s slick production skills drag the track into the right side of good.

Thereafter, Ronson gets to flex his pecs on Inversion, an instrumental shuffle that embraces the Ray Barretto sound and his own distinct producing style, while Santo Gold lends an extra sassy edge to Pretty Green, a real crowd-pleaser of a dance-floor filler.

Phantom Planet’s take on Radiohead’s Just has already been a highlight of an earlier re-interpretation project (Exit Music featuring all Radiohead tracks), while Kenna adds some psychedelic vocals to Amy, another highlight.

Kasabian’s LSF gets the horns treatment – but it’s more of a remix than a re-interpretation given that it’s still Kasabian providing the vocals.

But on the whole, Version is a cut above most cover version compilations, as well as a damn fine party album for the approaching summer season. It probably won’t impress the die-hard cynics – but for those willing to open their minds, or anyone in search of some expert funk, it delivers the goods in style.

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Download picks: God Put A Smile Upon Your Face, Oh My God, Valerie, Pretty Green, Amy, Just, Toxic

Track listing:

  1. God Put A Smile Upon Your Face – Feat. The Daptone Horns
  2. Oh My God – Feat. Lily Allen
  3. Stop Me – Feat. Daniel Merriweather
  4. Toxic – Feat. Tiggers [Version Revisited]
  5. Valerie – Feat. Amy Winehouse [Version Revisited]
  6. Apply Some Pressure – Feat. Paul Smith
  7. Inversion
  8. Pretty Green – Feat. Santo Gold
  9. Just – Feat. Phantom Planet
  10. Amy – Feat. Kenna
  11. The Only One I Know – Feat. Robbie Williams
  12. Diversion
  13. LSF – Feat. Kasabian [Version Revisited]
  14. Outversion