Mark Ronson branded himself a nostalgia alchemist with Amy Winehouse, updating mid-century R&B with a rare-groove-fanatic’s ear for detail. Where super-producers like Diplo might make serviceable magic with anyone, Ronson’s classicism generally requires the wearer to animate it. Winehouse was an ideal match. To a lesser extent, so was Bruno Mars, another classicist whose RIAA Diamond-selling Prince homage “Uptown Funk” proved how lucrative Ronson’s science could be.
Late Night Feelings is a sort of feminine inverse of Ronson’s 2015 LP, Uptown Special, the latter’s dude roster swapped for a compelling mix of women, its brittle chromed funk replaced with a plush, dubby quiet-storm vibe. It’s a better album — rangy, sexy and fairly seamless, a record to play all the way through after a night of clubbing. If there’s a problem, it’s songwriting and processed vocals that can feel anonymous; bold-faced names lost in string arrangements, pillowy reverb and period simulacra in a way the singers on Daft Punk’s like-minded Random Access Memories managed to avoid. “Late Night Feelings” suggests a bottle-service club jam from the moment when late- ’70s disco opulence pivoted into the ’80s freestyle R&B that birthed Madonna; Lykke Li delivers it impeccably and unobtrusively (she ups the soul factor on “2 AM,” a hazy booty-call blues). “Find U Again” sees Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker raining glitter over a crushed-out Camila Cabello, who raps about doing therapy “at least twice a week” to get over it. You wish her well, but may find it hard to recall a minute later.
The lesser-knowns shine hardest. Arkansas church belter Yebba launches “Don’t Leave Me Lonely” over a sumptuous house groove you might wish was double its 3:36 length. Diana Gordon brings the silk-sheet soul on “Why Hide” with a dubby ache recalling the XX, fitting since that group’s Romy Madley Croft co-wrote it. Best is “Truth,” delivered by the Last Artful, Dodgr (a.k.a. Portland rapper Alana Chenevert) over gnarly saw- toothed bass, with Alicia Keys “educatin’ ” and “elevatin’ ” on the hook like à la some great, lost Sly & the Family Stone single.
Honorable mention goes to up-and-coming country singer Miley Cyrus, who conjures her godmother, Dolly Parton, on “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart,” a trotting mix of “Jolene,” “I Will Always Love You” and “9 to 5,” perfectly suited for the post-“Old Town Road” urban-cowgirl gold rush. It shows how Ronson’s precision-tooled nostalgia is always somehow right on time.
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