Fresh off an Oscar-win for producing & writing “Shallow,” the British-American songwriter-DJ’s fifth studio album is a compilation of “sad bangers” that mixes a record of unique & brilliant pop songs with sleepy filler tracks sung by an entirely all-female featured vocalists.
The British-American songwriter, producer and DJ has had a very busy few years since the release of his last studio album, Uptown Special in 2015. Lead single “Uptown Funk” with Bruno Mars became one of the best selling singles of all-time breaking streaming records and sales records in the United States and Worldwide and later winning British Single of the Year at the 2015 Brit Awards and Record of the Year at the 2016 Grammy Awards. He picked up an Oscar earlier this year for his work writing/producing the hit song “Shallow” with Lady Gaga featured in the 2018 film A Star is Born. He has also produced for Adele, A$AP Rocky, Lady Gaga and Paul McCartney over the past five years, curating new sounds and directions for their bodies of works. With Ronson’s most recent effort, Late Night Feelings, it is his sharpest and sturdiest effort due to the cohesive, sad dance disco sounds lined with a slate of all-female featured vocalists.
We got a taste of his fifth studio album with the late-2018 release of “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart”, his outstanding lead single with Miley Cyrus. This unique collaboration is Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” on a big night out with a melodramatic strings, twanging country guitar lines and Cyrus’ signature crooning over the top. It was an undeniable banger (although it failed to achieve strong commercial success in the U.S.) and was a taste of what is to come. In recent interviews, Ronson has expressed that his most recent collection are sad bangers – songs that make you dance and cry in equal measure. In the 13-track collection, he’s teamed up with a mix of the most recognizable vocalists around (Cyrus, Camila Cabello, Alicia Keys) as well as some indie favorites (King Princess, Angel Olsen) to create an array of songs about heartbreak that also slap.
Ronson has a knack for expertly writing tunes that compliment female voices. Lykke Li’s ethereal whispers beautifully slide over tropical production on the seductive title track “Late Night Feelings”, while King Princess’ signature honeyed vocals float over bouncy ’80s production on “Pieces of Us.” On “Find U Again” which features Camila Cabello and was co-written by Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, the track boasts psych-flecked synths with a seductively delivered half-spoken bridge. YEBBA, a relatively unknown singer who most recently featured and sang backup for Chance the Rapper, lends her dynamism and range to three songs in the latter half of the album over Ronson’s funk-derived guitar grooves (“Knock Knock Knock”) and dance tracks (“Don’t Leave Me Lonely”). Diana Gordon is also given a platform (“Why Hide”) who co-wrote some of the most genre-bending songs on Beyonce’s Lemonade including “Don’t Hurt Yourself” and “Daddy Lessons”. Ilsey (“Spinning”) has contributed to recent smashes like Panic! At the Disco’s “High Hopes” and makes a standout contribution to the vast collection here.
As the various track suggest, Late Night Feelings is a breakup album through and through. It summons the cathartic space of the dance floor in order to explore the downtrodden internal monologues that can darken club-goers’ minds as disco balls spin and bass drops rattle the floor. Writing songs out of this friction – chasing joy and courting self-destruction, peppy beats and depressing lyrics. The thing is though is that the approach is not innovative at all; in fact it underpins early disco – Drake, Sia and Robyn have mad recent careers out of it with their own touch. In that sense, the album feels like a sleek, pleasurable entry into an established canon rather than an innovation of the form by an award-winning musician.
Ronson masterfully weaves in and out of musical styles and eras on the journey of grief that he concocts. He does an excellent job of showing the other end and darker side of love (the heartache) while sticking to his roots of disco and dance-hall themed tunes. Part of the challenge of having an album that features so many artists is that the songs all need to successfully complement each other without being too similar; each track needs to bring out the best in each featured artist and Ronson played on their most successful attributes to elevate the collection. He constructs a wall of interesting sounds and blends with studied cracks and spaces; one could get away with DJ-ing a late night party by hitting play on any dance/EDM tracks but the strength here is to be able to be consistent yet offer comfort despite the dark themes. So hit play, turn the lights off in the room and make sure you have plenty of room to dance the pain away.
Essential Track(s): “Late Night Feelings” (featuring Lykke Li), “Find U Again” (featuring Camila Cabello), “Pieces of Us” (featuring King Princess), “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” (featuring Miley Cyrus)
Released: June 21, 2019.
Genre(s): Disco, alternative disco, pop.
Label: RCA, Sony.
Featured Artist(s): Lykke Li, Camila Cabello, King Princess, Yebba, Alicia Keys, The Last Artful, Dodgr, Miley Cyrus, Angel Olsen, Diana Gordon, Ilsey.
Tour: N/A (as of publishing).
Vinyl Edition: Yes - through various outlets (as of publishing).