Late Night Feelings (Sony)
Mark Ronson has feelings, and they’re not the happiest ones. His fifth album ain’t no party, it ain’t no disco, it ain’t no fooling around. Put it this way, there’s no Uptown Funk.
Actually, it might just be a disco, but one where the lights flash less intermittently and the drinks melt a bit slower but were already watered down. Where a few bodies dancing look close but the space between them is fragile and sometimes plain cold.
In truth everyone this disco would rather be in one of those booths off to the side of the dancefloor, sipping on that drink morosely as Ronson’s 2am spins out all the way from 2am to sunrise.
Don’t worry party timers, Ronson isn’t trafficking in existential despair, but there’s definitely a patina of sadness to everything, a thin coat wrapped around his skinny shoulders hunched against the cold.
Don’t leave me lonely, one song asks; nothing breaks like a heart, another declares; pieces of us a third offers. It’s not been the greatest year or two then.
Which is about where we might leave it because you’d not want to look much beyond that patina. Not because Ronson isn’t being genuine; what would I know about that? And not because these songs don’t sound wan or wearied or hurt; that’s there for sure.
It’s because there’s little here to take you beyond the surface, to make you feel that you’ve actually connected with one person’s emotional exposure.
As with the multiple styles assayed in neat and accurate fashion – ok, let’s be fair, in very good fashion because there’s no gap between intention and result in any technical sense here whether it’s a kind of country disco or ‘70s soul - Late Night Feelings can’t shake off the sense it might be an exercise.
Some of that can be attributed to the fact that Ronson, no singer, has borrowed the voices of several other artists: from Miley Cyrus and multiple uses of Lykke Li and Yebba, to Camila Cabello, King Princess and Alicia Keys, rapper The Last Artful Dodgr and Diana Gordon.
They may not all have emotional depth but all of them commit. I wouldn’t call any of these performances phoned in, and Yebba (especially in When U Went Away) and Lykke Li (shining on 2am) in particular show why they’re so loved in their individual careers. But the diffusion of authorial voice can’t be avoided.
But I think there’s something more to this disconnect between what Ronson presumably wants us to feel, because he felt it, and what we actually get. And that might be that there isn’t anything close to existential despair, or at least something raw, before us.
The sounds are there, the rhythms are there, the tunes are there. But where is the pain, not just the story of pain? Where are the feelings, not just the shape of those feelings?