Mark Ronson’s latest collection of danceable pop confections, Late Night Feelings, certainly sticks to the titular theme. This commitment to crafting relatively quiet and sparse songs crafts a mostly appealing atmosphere of disco-tinged introspection, which is certainly a sound I could get used to. However, these subdued tracks sometimes by the fault of their very introspective nature or subtle musicality, can tend to disappear from your mind not long after listening to them. You’ve really got to give most of these songs multiple listens to give them any ability to stick inside your memory, which I guess is good in the long run for Ronson, but it becomes strange to listen to a pop album, even to enjoy it, and then not be able to recall 85% of the hooks one hour later.
The best example of this comes early with “Late Night Feelings,” featuring Lykke Li. The song is good and appealing, with an ice-cold disco gloss. Li’s vocals are perfectly fitting for that tone, but end up feeling like a gauzy sheet floating above the song. The end result is that I know I like the song, but it doesn’t have any muscle to get under my skin, so it doesn’t stay with me once I’m away from the album.
The songs that immediately crawl into your ear are the two songs which have the most, for lack of a better word, aggressive vocals. “Find U Again” by Camila Cabello has an interesting second verse that borders on speak-singing, but the chorus is drilled into you via Cabello’s following of the trend that stipulates young pop singers wring out overwrought vocals in place of conveying genuine emotion. The album’s first single (which came out nearly eight months ago!), “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” uses Miley Cyrus’ distinctively country twang and her raspy, strong delivery to make its mark. The song, the only remotely “country” inflected song on the album sometimes feels like it’s building to something it never quite reaches, but it sounds better when you’re able to appreciate the details. Specifically, there is a very “Jolene”-esque guitar underlying Cyrus’ vocals during the chorus, which helps convey some subtler emotions than the repetition of the titular idea can communicate.
While Mark Ronson’s albums tend to live off of the success of the singles, Late Night Feelings feels surprisingly cohesive as an album. There are still the songs which sound like they belong to that featured artist, which is often the clever trick of Ronson (cue Man on the Street segment where we see how many people know “Uptown Funk” is not on a Bruno Mars album), and while those singles can be lifted out if desired, they sound just as fitting sitting aside the other songs here. The only slight exception is the three-song set featuring YEBBA in the center of the album. The three songs – “Knock Knock Knock,” “Don’t Leave Me Lonely,” and “When U Went Away”—are carrying their own arc, and because they are all by the same artist they feel like a miniature EP within the album. Knowing that Ronson is currently working with YEBBA on her solo record additionally makes this set feel like a sneak-preview for that work. YEBBA is certainly a talented, soulful performer and the songs are not a mark against Late Night Feelings, but the flow is disrupted here more than anywhere else.
Some of the best tracks and features are the ones which sound like a song from that featured artist after it’s been put through Ronson’s (highly successful) pop processor. “Pieces of Us” uses King Princess’s slightly laconic, throaty vocals overtop a bass line and beat that feels reminiscent of Blood Orange’s Cupid Deluxe era to craft a song about resigned defeat that still makes you want to move. Meanwhile, “True Blue” featuring Angel Olsen, is a late-album gem. It sounds pretty much like any of the best Olsen songs, but with a disco-pop overlay that lifts up the dreamy, romantic qualities of Olsen’s performance and transforms the song into something larger than it may have been otherwise.
Besides the instrumentation of “Pieces Of Us,” the album as a whole reminds me of Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes circa Cupid Deluxe and Freetown Sound and his tendency of featuring guest female vocals more often than male vocals, even his own. During that time, Hynes partly justified that choice by explaining that he feels “there’s a power that women can put across that men just can’t.” Seeing that Late Night Feelings is Mark Ronson’s first album to feature only female vocalists, coming after Uptown Special which had nearly all male, and which features songs that feel intentionally more introspective and emotional than what he usually releases, I can’t help but feel Ronson was coming from a similar place. There may be something to the idea that female pop singers are better able to convey a wider array of vulnerable emotions—or perhaps their audience is more receptive to them conveying that—and so these songs felt better coming from a female voice.
At the same time, Ronson doesn’t stick each performer in the same box. The variety of performers and the genres they come from brings the range to Late Night Feelings that otherwise might not be there. The cool Nordic vocals of Lykke Li would not feel right in “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart,” for instance, which requires Cyrus’ hearty voice. While Cabello, Cyrus, and Li are there to give you purer pop jams, YEBBA brings the neo-soul in the vein of Sam Smith, and Angel Olsen brings in her indie rock edge. Alicia Keys and The Last Artful, Dodgr are used together well in “Truth,” one of the more up-tempo songs, bringing together their R&B and rap styles to craft a song that doesn’t feel preachy or sentimental, just frank and relatable. Diana Gordon brings some late-album gorgeous R&B shades to “Why Hide,” which at that stage in the album brings a fresh voice forward just when the songs are starting to move into repetition.
Late Night Feelings, while thoroughly pop and single-ready, is a surprisingly coherent album that utilizes its female roster to great effect. The songs employ a certain subtlety to explore the titular feelings, which range from regrets about romance, dwellings on heartbreak, and anxiety about the world at large and how to cope with it. If you’re a fan of a featured artist on the album, you will likely find and enjoy their track, but the ones you aren’t familiar with may satisfy you just as well. It takes a few listens to get this album to make a deeper impression on you, but having to listen to it, again and again, is far from a chore.