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Updated: Dec 4, 2019

Misery loves company as Mark Ronson takes a detour to the heartbreak hotel

Pop music has never been lacking in songs that luxuriate in the misery and pain of a broken heart. There’s certainly more mileage in depicting the feelings of loss that are both universal and horribly specific, than the heady sugar rush of getting into a “love thing” in the first place. And in the last ten years, there’s been no shortage of females to sing them. Adele has specialised in honing her heartbreak and selling it back to us (in the bucket loads) and whilst they’re not exactly bangers (I wish she would do a full-on handbag anthem), the songs are universal enough that everyone can find their own truth in them. Robyn has perfected the “sad banger” in recent years – straddling a delicate line between euphoric defiance and crumbling agony, often flipping between the two states in the space of a couple of lines.

Here, Mark Ronson attempts to define the concept of the “sad banger” with (mostly) admirable results. Although the truth is that none of these tracks are really “bangers” as such, but instead are lovingly produced and sometimes delicate paeans to losing love and not always being able to let it go.

Anyone put off (me) by Mark Ronson’s parpy, horn-filled pastiches of the past are in for a pleasant surprise. His tendency to throw everything at the kitchen sink is reined in here, and he generously lets his cast of female singers do they heavy lifting and allows them to showcase their own box of tricks. Only the Alicia Key’s-led “Truth” has the faint aura of a “Valerie-esqe” stomp. Largely, the record consists of mid-tempo , expensive sounding funk workouts with some expert string arrangements, and basslines that slink and weave themselves around the songs (“Pieces of Us” being a great example.) And as you would expect from this most detailed of producers, it does sound amazing , even if (occasionally) the songs don’t quite match the surroundings.

Lykke Li kicks things off with the title track, which doesn’t sound all that ‘sad’. It’s essentially a 1.00am booty-call where she admits to “trying to find a new distraction”. The brilliant Krystal Klear remix of this song makes this more explicit, as it starts off with a not-very-subtle phone call/dial tone sample. The second track – Camilla Cabelo’s “Find U Again” immediately answered the question posed by the previous track, as she admits defeat (“I tried to pass the time away with somebody new”).

It’s very much a record that exists in the strange hour between night and morning, when the mind can play tricks and the fear takes hold. The middle section of the record is held together by YEBBA (who could well be a future muse left by a Winehouse- shaped hole), and she emphasises the nocturnal setting by admitting “If we fall apart, let’s do it in the dark.” Lykke Li pops back at the end to ask “Don’t say I’m just a”. It’s clear that the late night feelings being expressed here are ones of anxiety, regret and a queasy loss of confidence.

Not all the songs are quite as polished as the production warrants. YEBBA isn’t well served with “When You Went Away”, which starts off with a sleepy yawn, and then trails off alarmingly just before the two minute mark, as if it was a bit of an undercooked afterthought. But the lead single, Miley Cyrus’s “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” is brilliant. Starting like it’s being transmitted through a wobbly transistor radio, it’s all Jolene-like plucked country guitars and bruised vocals, sounding like it’s being sung through the bottom of an empty shot class. The brief swoop up the chorus sounds like a chink of light through dark clouds, before she flippantly admits that “things fall apart”……but – devastatingly for all involved- “nothing breaks like a heart.”

So, like all loves this album isn’t perfect. But like all heartbreaks, it sounds expansive, leaves you obsessing over the details , and feels oddly comforting. Enough to make you not quite ready or prepared to let it go.

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