September 12, 2007

Something Different: Mark Ronson - Version (April 16, 2007)

Here at Hip Hop Isn't Dead, we (meaning me) wholeheartedly believe that the art form that we all know and love will be around forever. However, I have found that one way to appreciate hip hop even more is to frequently switch between different genres; it makes the hip hop just sound, for lack of a better term, fresher. And as an added bonus, you may discover an artist or a song that you wouldn't have heard otherwise.

(Don't worry, the rap write-ups haven't prematurely ended with Inspectah Deck. I'm just branching out, and I appreciate the readers that follow, whether you agree with what I'm about to say or not.)

Mark Ronson is a club DJ who apparently woke up one morning and decided he's rather be a producer. His first album, Here Comes The Fuzz, had considerably more hip hop than the follow up Version, and, tellingly, failed. Ronson has produced some good tracks for Rhymefest (real name, Reginald Hymefest) and Ol' Dirty Bastard ("Dirty Dirty", off of Osirus, and "Lift Your Skirt". from the still unreleased Ason Unique, are Ronson creations), so branching out and including artists such as Ghostface Killah, Q-Tip, Saigon, and Mos Def should have been a no-brainer, right?

Wrong. After that album failed (hell, even I didn't even try to find it; the only song I had ever heard was "Ooh Wee" by Ghostface, Nate Dogg, and Trife, and that' sonly because they play it at the beginning of the Jessica Alba vehicle Honey, which I was watching educational purposes only), Ronson retreated even further into the British music scene, somehow finding himself at the helm of the projects by England's next Great White Hopes: Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse. After handling a the bulk of production duties on both singers's albums, Ronson suddenly found himself as the toast of the UK, so he apparently woke up another morning and decided to release a compilation of cover songs called Version (named, interestingly enough, because these are his 'versions' of the songs! Ha! Clever!). Yeah, that really translates into Stateside sales, folks.

I don't know if my write-up will change that, but here goes.

The Daptone Horns also perform double duty as the Dap Kings that back Sharon Jones, whose name I've seen pop up on a few blogs recently, which infuriates me, because I wanted to write about her first. Oh well, the more the merrier. For this interpretation of Coldplay sans vocals, the instrumentation is good, but I can't shake the feeling that this song is just one grade above Muzak. Kind of a weird way to start your album.

Never heard the original Kaiser Chiefs song, but I don't care; I like Lily Allen and her overtly British-accented singing voice. Did you know that her Alright, Still album features a track that can be interpreted as her cover of (of all people) Curtis Jackson's "Window Shopper"? I'm not saying it's a good song or anything, but the first time I heard it, I think I actually guffawed a bit.

My wife and I refer to the catalog belonging to Morrissey and The Smiths as "sad bastard music", a term stolen from Jack Black in High Fidelity. (However, we are big fans of Morrissey and The Smiths. Go figure.) This is the song that originally made me seek out Version. The blasphemy that is covering Morrissey (which never really works for any artist) actually seems like a decent idea in the capable hands of Daniel Merriweather (not to be confused with The Automator's alias in Handsome Boy Modeling School). Slipping in some resung vocals from The Supremes's "You Keep Me Hangin' On", this guy actually held my attention on a song that I already loved, and Ronson's beat sound like the intro to a late-70s British spy caper. Well played, sir.

This cover makes it seem like Britney Spears actually has some well-written songs under her nonexistent belt. (You should also seek out Travis's cover of "...Baby One More Time", which takes the song, which I always thought could be misinterpreted as a positive stance on domestic abuse, on a trip into the melancholy.) I had no clue who Tiggers was, or why the name would be in the plural form, and after hearing this, I still don't. It all sounds good, but the rug that truly ties this room together is the late, great Russell Jones, who, thanks to modern technology, contributes a verse from beyond the white light. I don't know why Ronson didn't bother to credit Dirt McGirt on the album itself, but I'm sure it has something to do with not wanting to incur the wrath of Dame Dash and/or Cherry Jones.

Here's the other side of the 2007 British Invasion spectrum. Truth be told, I don't give a fuck about Amy Winehouse; the first time I heard her was on that song that Ghostface Killah stole for his More Fish album, and I wans't impressed then, either. The appeal of a crack whore with a smoky voice isn't lost on me, but Winehouse isn't anything special. They say that you're either an Amy Winehouse person or a Lily Allen person; there aren't many people who like both artists equally. Chalk me up in the second category. I just realized that was a very long-winded explanation alluding to the fact that I didn't care for this song. Oh well, the writing is what people want to read, right? (side note; I just found out that Winehouse's album Frank, still unreleased in the states, features background vocals from one Jeni Fujita; all the more reason to avoid this train wreck already in progress.)

If I understand correctly, this is a Maximo Park song that the singer from Maximo Park re-did with Ronson. Has a slightly ska feel, a little bit like early No Doubt or Save Ferris; as such, it sounds okay.

Interlude. Pleasant enough, but unnecessary.

I should probably have heard the original song by The Jam before hearing this one; I have no point of reference for comparison purposes. It's not bad, but I can picture it playing on the soundtrack of some MTV Films release featuring unrealistic teenage stereotypes at a party with (gasp!) drinking and/or smoking, if that tells you anything.

A Radiohead cover, with the big horn section and dusty Rza-esque drums. I'd rather listen to actual Radiohead albums, thank you very much. For a better Phantom Planet cover track, seek out their version (a pun!) of Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby", from the Not Another Teen Movie soundtrack. (Never thought I'd ever mention that movie on a hip hop blog. Huh.)

I never cared for the songs of Ryan Adams, but Chad Hugo's good friend Kenna makes me want to track down the original. I won't actually do that, however; life is short, and I'm already behind on my writing as it is. This song proves that Kenna can sound good over tracks not produced by either one of the Neptunes.

Robbie covers The Charlatans (whom I have never heard of) to good effect. I actually kind of like Robbie's voice; I can imagine why he's big everywhere except for in the United States (short version: he's not Timberlake). Apparently Ronson also did some production work on Robbie's last album. Oh, the things you learn when you try out other musical genres!


A Kasabian cover of a Kasabian song. How very meta. Taken as such, it's okay; nothing really to continue blogging about, so I'm going to

Outro. Meh.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Version originally sounded like a horrible idea on paper; why would someone who is mainly known as a club DJ produce an album of covers of songs that a lot of people have never heard of? Thankfully, it's an experiment that actually worked, although I'm sure he could have found room for Rhymefest somewhere; that guy doesn't get enough work.

BUY OR BURN? You may actually want to pick this one up. It surprised the hell out of me, and I'm still waiting for the hell to regain its composure and return. Try to find it used if you're not convinced; it'll be worth your while.

BEST TRACKS: "Stop Me"; "Toxic"; "Oh My God"; "The Only One I Know"; "Amy"



Baby Elephant (Prince Paul, Bernie Worrell, and Don Newkirk) - Turn My Teeth Up!


  1. Max is right people about the Travis version of Britney's "hit me barkeep one more time" ... look for it , it's an acoustic solo version and it's far superior to the original !!!
    Max, didn't know you liked Morrissey and the Smiths ... good one mate !
    As for the Charlatans, "the only one i know" should 've been called "the only decent song we'll ever write" : a good track but all their other work should be skipped ( mediocre , period) .
    And Amy Winehouse ... sigh ... heading for (B)Armageddon I suppose ?

  2. thanks for blowing one of my Friday's Covers wide open. But since I haven't done a fucking thing for 2 weeks that's fair. BTW Did you see Britney at the awards? Wretched. Finally shoud I go see the ATHF film? I watched the Family Guy movie and got so utterly bored with it I haven't watched the show since.okay. bye. I promise I'll put something up this weekend.

  3. First off mate, being a british citizen I can tell you that Mark Ronson was never 'toast of the town' over here, and was a relative unknown in a pop-sense till this album came out. His first album, if you do want to hear it, was quite good, and is worth a buy at a cut-price, or a download.

    Second, i disagree about this album. Its lazy at best. The songs are poor. His versions of Coldplay, Radiohead etc songs are not a patch on the originals (especially the Radiohead one) and the Lily Allen/Amy Winehouse songs are god awful as usual.

    Absolute garbage.

    That said, good read, and I do enjoy your reviews (whether i agree or not)

  4. Sniper - thanks for the comments. I enjoy seeing them, especially when we completely disagree. Since I'm from the States, I'm prone to believe your comment about Ronson not being shit in the UK, because how the hell will I know otherwise? Thanks for reading.

    What It Is - I left a comment on your blog.

    Tcha, thanks for the comments, and good poll as always!

  5. OK...
    a) Here comes the Fuzz is actually a really good album (in my opinion), one that I can go back to for some really easy, fun hip hop listening with a bit of this and that thrown in. I don't think it really failed either.
    b)Sharon James and the Daptones=good. You should review them, i don't read those other blogs.
    c)The Kaiser Cheifs song is bad (I can't handle the blasphemy) and so is this one. Lily Allen is just annoying.
    d)Toxic=comedy genius.
    e)Apply Some Pressure - both versions are good, because it is a well written good song.
    f)Just- Hate Radiohead, love this song.
    g)Robbie Williams. Robbie Williams? ROBBIE WILLIAMS? Can he kick it? No.
    I really wanted to get this album before it came out (on the strength of toxic and just) and now i never want to own it.

    Good review though, I still like your opinions even if they ndon't match mine!

  6. Man, this album is dope.
    Glad you gave it some shine here.
    Oxy-moronic as it may sound, I thought this was an original cover album.
    Meaning the songs are done in real intriguing ways.
    Only thing I disagree with is I dig Amy over Lily, by far.
    Voice and music, just more my taste.

    Great blog tho, homie.
    I'll keep reading if you keep posting.

  7. Cool album, nice to hear about something new, the ODB song made me laugh about half way through the first verse. Remembered when you wrote he was such a jackass, (with all repsect, RIP ODB). I'm somewhat ashamed to admit it, but I actually like Britney's version. Still missing the 90's Premier and Enta da Stage reviews though. With the movie coming out, what do you think of Joy Division ? Like the new format


  8. aidan - as I said in my review, I haven't even botheres to listen to his first album; I'm just going off of record sales alone whan I say it "failed". (I know, that's not the way it should be done, but that's how the record industry looks at it, and I got kind of lazy there.) However, because of your comments and those made by others, I will try to check it out. Thanks for reading!

    voss - thanks for the comments, and thanks for reading. Hopefully I'll be able to dig up some gems in my collection that will make for some good reviews.

    soulcleanmusic - I started out as a bigger New Order fan first, but worked my way backward to Joy Division. I really love their music, but have to be in the right frame of mind to hear Ian Curtis (i.e., depressed and extra-mopey, or drunk at the club); I am looking forward to the movie, though. And don't worry, I'll get to the Primo and Boot Camp reviews...eventually. And thanks for your comments about the new format; hopefully I won't let you down.