Album review: Mark Ronson's 'Late Night Feelings' will make you want to dance the pain away

The British/American producer’s new album is full of 'sad bangers'

Mark Ronson at the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. AP
Mark Ronson at the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. AP

Last we heard of Ronson was his record-breaking hit Uptown Funk with Bruno Mars. That was four years ago. His latest record is a far cry, literally, as it is about the darker, melancholic side of love. An introspective look at heartbreak, it's a multifaceted representation of its pain, coming after the DJ’s divorce. But in no way are the tracks a collection of bummers; if anything it’s a beautiful celebration of sadness.

Ronson stated in a press release: “While it may have been inspired and held together by my own formidable heartbreak – in reality, everyone’s truth is contained here in this work.” With guests Camila Cabello, Lykke Li, King Princess, Yebba, Alicia Keys, Miley Cyrus, Angel Olsen, Diana Gordon, Ilsey, it’s an all-female cast of vocalists.

Mark Ronson's Late Night Feelings. Courtesy RCA Records
Mark Ronson's Late Night Feelings. Courtesy RCA Records

The first genre-blended hit off the album Nothing Breaks Like A Heart is striking. Collaborating with pop star Miley Cyrus in this country-pop showdown, Ronson births a refreshing track; a relief in the bigger world of repetitive pop. Cyrus is a crooner, and keeps true to her country roots in the melody and its vocal execution. The gritty and dreamy blend of acoustic guitars and strings give the pop hit a unique edge.

Title track, Late Night Feelings, is about loneliness that creeps in at the late hours of the night. The track’s melody is overlaid by Lykke Li’s whispy vocals, perfectly complementary to its moody feel. Late Night Feelings sounds like night time, intoxication and bad decisions, it’s a melancholic disco shuffle. The combination of steel drums, triangles and high-hats as a percussive choice is a nice touch.

The vulnerable title track is followed by sudden attitude and rigor. Truth, with its fast funk rhythm, throws you into drive; it takes charge with a rhythmically spat opening line, “Swift / In a blur, man / The world done changed on us” by rapper The Last Artful, Dodgr. Her squeaky tone, with hiccups and pitch jumps, is unique and forces you to move. Every beat is attended to in this head-nodder.

To soften up the choruses arrives R&B and soul princess Alicia Keys. “Keep on relevatin', elevatin', anything to keep me up,” she sings. The line is repeated like a mantra by both Keys and The Last Artful, Dodgr throughout the most uplifting track on the album. Though the choruses don’t always match up to the excellence of the verses, it does flow smoothly. Ronson proves he can orchestrate an almost romantic unity of singing and rap.

Ronson’s track with Diana Gordon Why Hide is contradictory and gorgeous, with its strength and softness. In the soulful piano track, it’s clear that Gordon’s melody and voice are in charge, with the instruments accompanying its lead. Her quick and breathy, then slowed down and swollen vocals are voluptuous and sensual. Arguably, it's the most unexpected track because it’s so simple yet strong.

The latest single is Pieces of My Heart, featuring 20-year-old rising pop sensation King Princess. For a song about defeat, the track makes you want to get up and dance. The slapped bass guitar, high-hat and synths are groovy.

Being unafraid of musical throwbacks is part of Ronson’s charm. Knock Knock Knock, with a relaxed seventies vibe, is confident but bare. The song doesn’t do much in the overall context of the work, so it is a good thing that it’s a shorter one-and-a-half-minute track. Her singing is underwhelming, and its layers of harmony seem like theonly signs of effort. Overall, it sounds like the result of a poor jam session.

By contrast, When U Went Away is a much improved attempt of an interlude. YEBBA shows off her acrobatic vocals, which, hand in hand with the trumpet, are silky and seductive before they bubble up with jazzy runs. Don’t Leave Me Lonely is a catchy track with powerful vocals from YEBBA.

The opener Late Night Prelude, is a dream. The build-up then swell of strings are joined by through-the-wall bass drums which reel the listener into another world, the world of Ronson’s Late Night Feelings. With its symphony of vintage strings in Late Night Prelude is a romantic take of the title track, which it seamlessly moves into.

Li’s other track with Ronson, 2am, is a sweet serenade but doesn’t match up to the impact of their single. “Don’t say I’m just a 2am” sings Li, in a hurt ballad that finally picks up rhythmically with the introduction of drums too late into the song. Camila Cabello partners with Ronson in radio-friendly Find U Again. The song doesn’t stand out in comparison to the rest, but “This crush is kind of crushing me / I do therapy at least twice a week” is a smart, unexpected line. In similar 1980s vein is True Blue featuring Angel Olsen. And the slow, reverb-y track Spinning features Isley.

Ronson hit the mark with this body of songs. Despite its few errors, its an overall wonderful success of a project. Part of the challenge of an album that features so many artists is that the songs need to successfully complement each other, while bringing out the best in each featured artist, and that it did.

To think where the album would fit in the wider genre is difficult, and that’s a good thing. Ronson masterfully weaves in and out of musical styles and eras, in the journey of grief. He does an excellent job of showing the other end and darker side of love, heartache. So, find a dark space and press play, but make room to dance the pain away.

Published: June 27, 2019 06:20 PM

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