More about: Mark Ronson
It’s always been notoriously difficult for someone in the traditional role of music producer to transition over to the artist's limelight. Long before Mark Ronson there were producers such as George Martin, Quincy Jones, Malcolm McLaren, Brian Eno - the last of which arguably being the one to most successfully cement his name as a standalone artist, and no longer simply a producer for other acts. Ronson is doing his best to follow in that tradition: he has elevated himself above most of his contemporary producer peers, but yet he still straddles an odd dichotomy between artist/guitarist/DJ/performer, and producer/songwriter.
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What Ronson has always been gifted at is pinpointing the magic sounds which have existed in bygone eras of pop music, and replicating them with style in his records. His work with Amy Winehouse captured Motown’s finer moments, his covers album Version ticked more Motown boxes with some Stax references in amongst the turntablist hallmarks that inspired his DJ-only days. 2010 LP Record Collection was replete with nods to New Wave, and his previous album - the excellent and underrated Uptown Special - plundered the 70s and 80s catalogues of Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, Toto, and Babyface/New Jack Swing with Bruno Mars. What Ronson has arguably not yet mastered though, is to craft a new sound he can call his own. Will new album Late Night Feelings secure his legacy as one-of-a-kind, trailblazing producer-cum-artist?
The album opens, as does his previous record, with a trick that shows he’s a real producer: the bookending intro and outro. A strings-laden introduction melodically heralds in the album’s brilliant title track, one with a sound very indebted to Jungle were it not for Li’s excellent vocals and performance which lifts things and secures the song’s place as one of the great singles of 2019. Li returns later on ‘2 AM’ and it’s another real treat. Long may she reign.
Elsewhere, the album's collaborators would appear to signal an eye to the current: one-to-watch singer YEBBA features on three tracks as part of a YEBBA interlude midway though the album. Her very distinctive vocal range lends some unexpected textures to the very Ronson-sounding but excellent ‘Knock Knock Knock’, ‘Don’t Leave Me Lonely’ - an Emeli Sande track without being awful - and short but sweet ditty ‘When U Went Away’. Angel Olsen appears at another point, another shrewd left-of-centre artist to bring some trendy weight to Ronson’s sonic love letters, even if the track itself doesn’t stand up to many repeat listens.
Another highlight, single ‘Nothing Breaks Like A Heart’ features Miley Cyrus and apes Dolly Parton wonderfully. It’s kitsch, but as with most of Ronson’s best output, it (just about) knows when to draw the line on pastiche, allowing the listener to enjoy the sounds and melodies of yesteryear, refreshed just enough not to be anything wholly new. As with much of the rest of this album, here Cyrus’ performance really keeps things moving.
The album closes with ’Spinning’, a 1min 30 outro which references the intro and title track, completing the trick as used on Sgt Pepper and many albums before this one. But the album doesn’t feel as cohesive as its bookends implies; it is a collection of tracks - some excellent, some forgettable - which vary greatly in depth and don’t add up to a sum greater than its parts. And therein lies the real challenge for Ronson. He is deft at spawning a hit - he has the talent, the contacts and an ear to the ground - but what we’re waiting for is his statement album that he will inspire future Ronson copycat producers. Late Night Feelings is a very listenable album with some excellent highlights, but a grand and new sonic statement it is not.
Late Night Feelings is released on 21 June 2019 via RCA.
More about: Mark Ronson