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Strangely Insecure for a Cool Guy

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A chart Ronson drew when asked to diagram his various connections.

As the band played, she tried bantering with the drummer, then made her way over to Ronson’s keyboard and began fiddling with the keys. Ronson stood there helplessly, smiling at her as if he could think of nothing more amusing than this adventure in public humiliation. The finale couldn’t have come soon enough. “We’ve got one last song, and I don’t think it’s a big surprise who’s going to sing it,” Ronson remarked drily. It quickly became clear that Winehouse had forgotten the lyrics.

Ronson is courteous to everyone. At the hotel after the show, while Winehouse and her people crowded into an elevator, he waited outside. “I’ll take the next elevator,” he said. The doors closed, and he contemplated them silently for a second. “Or maybe the one after that.” A few weeks later, he told me, “I’ve never been so depressed after a gig.”

He might have stayed that way, were it not for the fact that the album, released last week, has been very well received. The Fader deemed the record its “favorite thing Mark Ronson has ever done”; the Washington Post declared it “sneakily good”; and the Guardian insisted that Boy George, who makes a comeback appearance on the album’s most soulful track, “Somebody to Love Me,” has “never sounded more majestic.”

Billed as Ronson’s songwriting debut, Record Collection channels the wide-ranging formative influences of his early years. It sounds a little like synth pop and a little like hip-hop—and hardly anything like Version. Ronson has traded the pervasive trumpets of Version and Back to Black for Prophet-5s, Jupiter-4s, and other outmoded synthesizers, an obsession he picked up from working with Duran Duran. He bought thirteen of them, mostly off eBay, and together with the elastic, muscular drum work of the Dap-Kings’ Homer Steinweiss, they give the album a warmth and vitality rarely found in today’s pop music, the majority of which is made on computers and sounds like it. Ronson even sings on a pair of tracks—an achievement made possible by more than a year of lessons with Lady Gaga’s vocal coach.

Like everything else he’s done, Record Collection brims with talent from across the pop spectrum: Boy George, Ghostface Killah, two members of Duran Duran, the enigmatic R&B star D’Angelo, and a host of lesser-known songwriters and performers. Yes, Ronson splits the songwriting credits a hundred different ways, and no, Record Collection doesn’t free Ronson from charges that he leans heavily on other artists, but it’s a bright, appealing album, and it’s hard to think of anyone other than Ronson who could have made it. “I’ve definitely relaxed a little,” Ronson told me, which perhaps explains why he’s produced some of his best work yet. Even the NME approves: “Mark Ronson, you can stop beating yourself up now.”


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