Nostalgia has been a hot commodity in pop culture for a couple years now. There have been countless reboots and revivals, as well as the new stories told with hints of the past. “Stranger Things,” Taylor Swift’s “1989,” “A Star is Born,” Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up.” When done well, the fusion of new voices and old frameworks grabs the public’s attention and becomes the hot thing of the moment.
One of the strongest curators of this fusion is producer Mark Ronson. His work with Amy Winehouse proved his strong abilities to create nostalgic soundscapes for artists to play in. He struck gold, or diamond rather, with Bruno Mars on the 2014 single “Uptown Funk.” And now he takes on the early ’80s with his new album, “Late Night Feelings.”
The project was led with the Miley Cyrus assisted “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart.” Alone, it felt like an experimentation in country-disco, perhaps inspired by Kacey Musgraves. In the context of the album, it feels much more purposeful. Each track sits firmly in the disco era, but branches into the different genres present at the time. There are songs that lean pop, there are tracks that pull from soul and songs with a hint of rhythm and blues. It is singular but expansive.
“Late Night Feelings” is billed as Ronson’s most personal album yet. The project confronts heartache and lust in the aftermath of a breakup. While the lyrics are vulnerable, the music never really hits the emotional marks. It is much more focused on maintaining the flow of the body of work and riding the vibe. And though it would seem like this should be its weakness, it proves to be its strength.
The album is truly best consumed as a whole, from beginning to the end. From the moment the prelude fades in, the sound envelopes you in their world and transports you to the confrontation of the Ronson’s feelings.
To voice his emotions, Ronson casts a group of female singers. Mainstream acts like Camila Cabello, Alicia Keys and Cyrus sing alongside rising performers like King Princess and YEBBA, who appears the most on the project. It’s an interesting personification of his own emotions, but the female voice embodies the sadness in the lyrics so familiarly.
The standout tracks are “Find U Again,” “Truth” and “2 AM.” Cabello aches through filtered vocoders on “Find U Again.” The sad bop longs for a lost love through a nonconventional song structure that makes the song addicting.
“Truth” is a spacey soul track that feels like a lost transmission from the era of Sly and the Family Stone. Dodgr hits a distinct flow that strikes all the right emphasis. It is a bit of an outlier, as it is more of a protest track than emotional outpouring. Still, it stands it’s own and hits home with it’s message.
“2 AM” is a ballad, which is a rarity on a record from a DJ. The track provides a necessary counterpoint to the tracks of longing over lost love. This song tries to unpack the implications of casual hookups and meaningless late night intimacy. Lykke Li croons “Say it’s over, but you’re in my bed / Walk away, come runnin’ back again / Don’t say I’m just a 2 AM, 2 AM.” It is probably the song that strikes the strongest emotional chords.
Overall, Ronson has created a deeply interesting project with “Late Night Feelings.” It is very far from the typical product a DJ would put out. While it definitely has radio ready tracks, it is a true body of work best consumed as such.