Amy Winehouse may be reportedly peeved at Mark Ronson's taking too much credit for her success, and piggybacking his own solo career on that success, but she shouldn't worry overmuch about him stealing her vocal limelight: for as Record Collection brutally reveals, the über-producer of his era turns out to be an ünter-singer, his weedy vocals here failing to bring to life any song on which he takes the lead.
Hence the array of singers with which he fronts most of these productions, ranging from Boy George and D'Angelo to Simon Le Bon and Rose Elinor Dougall. In that regard, Record Collection continues the method of 2007's Version, although here Ronson's dealing with fresh material rather than cover versions of familiar hits. The most crucial difference, however, is the absence this time round of The Daptone Horns, and with them the muscular retro-soul sound that proved so popular back then. In its place is a less distinctive R&B/ hip-hop approach whose cycling electropop synths and brittle beats, allied to the shifting crew of collaborators and co-writers, merely compound the album's somewhat anonymous character.
Boy George furnishes the most compelling vocal, poignantly demanding "I need somebody to be nice, see the boy I once was in my eyes," over the stalking bass synth and shuffling breakbeat of "Somebody to Love Me", a song which apparently required Cathy Dennis and sundry Scissor Sisters, Dirty Pretty Things and Miike Snows to compose. Nu-soul pioneer D'Angelo makes a welcome return, sounding like Cee-Lo Green on "Glass Mountain Trust", but the shrill analogue synth motif and fussy drum programme are just a mess.
Much more assured is the staccato groove of "Bang Bang Bang", with its stuttering keyboards carrying a typically relaxed rap from Q-Tip. Elsewhere, Jonathan Pierce of The Drums co-composes a couple of tracks, including "Lose It (in the End)", on which Ronson's thin, weedy vocal sounds lost among the hustling snares and classically arpeggiating synths, even before Ghostface Killah muscles his way in to take over the track. Interspersed between the songs are a few keyboard instrumentals of little conviction or character, such as the prog-rock synth piece "Circuit Breaker", with its pomp-rock ostinatos, and "The Colour of Crumar", a tribute to the 1970s keyboard device favoured by Sun Ra, but put to far less imaginative use here.
Indeed, so feeble is the aggregate inspiration involved in Record Collection that Ronson may come to regret naming it after the song co-written with Kaiser Chief Nick Hodgson, a sardonic appraisal of the producer's intentions with regard to music ("I only want to be in your record collection"), which glibly betrays the album's essential shortcoming. If that's all he wants from his music, it's no surprise it lacks heart and soul and visceral engagement. All the things, in fact, which are the truly important elements of Amy Winehouse's success.
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