Mark Ronson is destined to be short changed due to his status as a celebrity DJ. This isn’t really fair considering he’s one of the few figures who actually lives up to his own hype. He’s a master sonic architect. If you need proof of that point, you should listen to his last record “Version,” on which he delivered a blisteringly awesome array of horn-section assisted covers. In my opinion, “Version” may very well be one of the best covers albums of all time. Fans of that record, though, may find his new album, “Record Collection” initially distressing. This time around, the Dap-Horns are nowhere to be found. Instead, he’s created what amounts to a guest filled, high energy electro dance party. Hold your initial concerns because this new formula truly works. I was nervous when I first heard opener and single, “Bang Bang Bang.” Not knowing what to expect, I was taken aback by the electro shift. In spite of Q-Tip’s excellent guest appearance, it made me a touch apprehensive about the record. Thankfully, after a few listens all my negative feelings have subsided and now I understand the sound Ronson is going for. This record is firmly planted in the retro-dance sounds of the eighties and yet it recalls other recently hyped indie-rock-dance hybrids like The Go Team! What makes “Bang Bang Bang” such a striking opener is that it throws you directly and immediately into the action. Play this track at a party and no doubt, even the most jaded music snob could potentially bust out a dance move. It helps that a wide audience rightly reveres Q-Tip as a hip-hop legend. This is Ronson’s second collaboration with the Abstract, considering the two of them previously paired up on Ronson’s first record, “Here Comes The Fuzz.” I really hope this song gets the mainstream love it deserves. “Lose It (In The End)” is similarly synth-heavy , showcasing a rare vocal-turn by Ronson himself. The track’s fast paced beat perfectly suits Ghostface Killah’s rapid-fire flow. It’s the kind of rushed energy that he previously gave to the remix of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.” By combining eighties-style Euro-synth pop and classic, cerebral hip-hop, Ronson has created a new hybrid and it’s a combination which fits together surprisingly well. “The Bike Song” again finds this formula continuing to work, pairing vocalist Kyle Falconer with Spank Rock. Again, the groove is in full drive and Ronson proves himself to be master of the party as he commands this ridiculously catchy song and its hook, “Gonna ride my bike until I get home.” This is infectious, highly danceable candy for your ears. “Somebody To Love Me” takes the pace down a notch for a moment. It’s a ballad featuring Boy George (of all people!) and Andrew Wyatt. As it continues, it morphs into a semi-hypnotic, slightly dub-driven electro groove. It shows that whatever you think of George, he can still sing and carry a track to its fullest potential. His voice has changed adding a touch of raspiness. The most amazing thing about the track is actually the fact that it has eight writers, including Ronson, Andrew Wyatt, former Phantom Planet leader Alex Greenwald and former hit-maker Kathy Dennis. The Euro-pop side of the record is heavily present in “You Gave Me Nothing,” which sounds like a another throwback to the eighties. Andrew Wyatt returns on vocal duty with Rose Elinor Dougall. The two singers play off of each other like a modern answer to the Human League. “The Colour Of Crumar” is the first of three short instrumental breaks on the record. These breaks often find Ronson taking a few more musical chances. Without having to deal with possibly getting in the way of a vocalist, he can experiment more freely. This is the tamest of the three interludes, playing like a cross between a strange movie theme and souped up elevator muzak. D’Angelo fits surprisingly well within this synth-pop realm on “Glass Mountain Trust,” exhibiting the kind of musical adventurousness more expected from let’s say Cee-Lo. Given the fact that D’Angelo hasn’t really released a proper album since “Voodoo” in 2000, any time he shows up on someone’s record is an event. Last year, after a long absence, Maxwell came back. Surely now it’s D’Angelo’s turn and this track makes for an interesting left turn. “Circuit Breaker,” like the three short interludes is an instrumental cut, but it expands and fleshes out. At the beginning, it sounds like a cheeseball theme to a Nintendo game. (These ultra-retro keyboard riffs aren’t for everyone.) Give it a moment, though, because when the drums really kick in, it becomes momentarily like a great break-dancing/DJ spinning contest jam. The track ping-pongs between these two dynamics, which can be frustrating, but ultimately the track stands as a testament to Ronson and his versatile team. “Introducing The Business” is one of those hip-hop flavored tracks that is quite possibly too self-referential for its own good, with its hook, “This is the business. / Prepare to take witness. / To the type of ish that we on./ By the time that you get there, / We already been there. / We done packed up / And we gone.” (Yes, “ish” is actually said on the record. It’s not some lyric-page substitute for s__t! ) This is cheesy. It’s as if Ronson said, “Hey, I have a band-name now. We need a theme song!” In spite of a lame chorus, the track works and the reason is Ronson’s arrangement. The choir singing in the background (The London Gay Men’s Choir) gives the track an ominous, almost other-worldly feel. Rapper, Pill, does better during the verses and so what could’ve been a horribly embarrassing exercise actually becomes somewhat palatable. The title track features vocals from Ronson, himself, Duran Duran’s Simon Lebon and rapper Wiley. Indeed on this track Ronson proves that Euro-pop and British “grime” can sit comfortably and firmly on the same track. This is one of the strongest tracks on the record. “Selector” is the second interlude. It clocks in at just over a minute, delivering a slow-rolling stomp, which is then aided by an icy synth layer. It amounts to one of the best moments on the disc. “Hey Boy” finds us in an eighties-infused dance hall. Rose Elinor Dougall returns on vocals, giving the song a nice pop sheen. Again, this is a slightly dubby highlight.
“Missing Words” is interlude number three. Again clocking in at a very short minute and a half, Ronson is able to paint a rich sonic picture. The guitar at the beginning, with its heavy reverb sounds delicate and like it is miles away. Again, retro synths take charge and become the track’s focus. The album closes with “The Night Last Night.” It’s a groovy workout featuring vocal tradeoffs between Alex Greenwald and Dougall. The beat has real kick, thus ending the record on a high point. Yes, “Record Collection” may not initially be quite as powerful or memorable a statement as “Version” was a couple of years back, but it is still quite an excellent record. Given a few listens it begins to plant itself firmly into your subconscious. It’s got its weak spots, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it ultimately ended up being one of the best party albums of the year. Indeed, Mark Ronson is still firmly a true master of his craft.