Mark Ronson: Version

In England, where it's been out since April, Mark Ronson's second album largely registers as a novelty record. It features big UK pop stars—Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, Kasabian, Robbie Williams—doing karaoke of other people's songs (and sometimes their own) over Ronson's knowingly retro-soul backings. But in the U.S., Winehouse is the only actually famous person on Version, and her celebrity is so recent that she doesn't entirely count. Which may well make it easier for Yanks to hear Version as a piece of music. On those terms, it's a smart valentine to a few different strains of Brit-pop, with occasional missteps, such as patching on tape of Ol' Dirty Bastard chanting "Ooh, nigga, I'm burnin' up" over the Tiggers-sung version of Britney Spears's "Toxic."

Most of the time, though, Ronson's big-band arrangements play like smart glosses on the albums he made with Winehouse and Allen, with waggish horn lines and supple guitar-bass-drums interplay throughout. And there are a couple of great re-imaginings here: Alex Greenwood sings Radiohead's "Just" (previously released two years ago on a Radiohead-goes-R&B covers compilation) with a heavy-lidded, lusty swagger through a wriggling brass chart, while Winehouse helps turn the Zutons' "Valerie" into a lush Motown takeoff, complete with handclaps and windswept strings.

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