Album Review: Future Nostalgia

After dominating the airwaves with mega-hits such as the relationship manifesto of New Rules and the Calvin Harris-produced breezy tropical anthem One Kiss, British pop sensation Dua Lipa makes a triumphant return to the music industry with an astonishing sophomore album – Future Nostalgia.

While Lipa’s debut was triumphant in its performance (it becoming the most streamed female album in Spotify history), many usual listeners and music critics were quick to dismiss the record for lacking a sense of identity and deeming it glorified shopping mall music.

And although its elder sibling lacks in some areas, Future Nostalgia doubles in quality throughout every territory of its sonic landscape.

Photo: Warner

"You want a timeless song / I wanna change the game", announces the singer on the opening track, preceded by an echoing male vocal whispering future — acting like an ominous, otherworldly guide introducing us to the universe of Future Nostalgia.

It is pure 80s horror cheesiness, reminiscent of Thriller's ghastly narration by Vincent Price.

The opening line introduces the record's main focus, as well as the newfound ambition of the artist behind it – the internal need for transforming into a pop visionary, uniting worlds of pop past and present – Future Nostalgia.

The track sports an experimental yet accessible, high-budget production – frankensteined with elements of sonic haunt evocative of John Carpenter, a synth line thick enough to reanimate zombies of Thriller Night, hand claps of '90s disco mania, and a jazzy chord progression layered on the second to last chorus.

Lipa's playful, half-rapped vocal delivery transmits a message of empowerment and adds another unique layer to the song's monumental personality.

The ultimate highlight of the track, however, is perhaps the post-chorus: it is infectious, playful, and commanding; delivering the one-liner "I know you ain't used to a female alpha", with the singer's backing vocals charmingly teasing the listener.

An assertive piano chord opens Don't Start Now when we flashback to the era of 2000's Max Martin bubblegum pop (…Baby One More Time, Bye Bye Bye).

With an infectious bass line dominating the track and grandiose violins elevating its explosive points, the lead single is one of many pure dance floor anthems present on the album.

The electric guitar in the second verse layered on top of the running bass line further enriches the '90s disco sound, but Lipa takes this one step further as she references Gloria Gaynor's staple disco hit I Will Survive, singing "Aren't you the guy who tried to hurt me with the word goodbye?".

The result is a splendidly empowering blend of formula and quirk, cowbell and bass, vintage and new.

Cool, the song with perhaps the most current and easily digestible sound is a summery, mid-to-high tempo track. Its melody is reminiscent of classic Lipa – smooth, simple, and easy to follow.

While it's a perfectly pleasant tune to listen to – the warm synths on the chorus paint a vivid image of summer sand and crystal waters – it sits at a disadvantage on the tracklist, sandwiched between Don't Start Now and Physical, arguably two of the best tracks in Lipa's discography.

With that said, even if the song does not hold up compared to some of the highlights on the album, it is a welcome addition.

The production is smooth and crisp – massive amounts of vintage reverb layered on finger snaps and drums, addictive electric guitar, and top-notch samples of distorted vocals sprinkled throughout the chorus acting like the alluring siren song of a summer romance.

On the celestial-sounding bridge, Lipa gradually switches from her higher register to her lower one.

When it reaches its lowest pitch, the track breaks into its final, explosive chorus once more, and it is simply entrancing.

Photo: Warner

The essence of Future Nostalgia radiates like a blinding beam of light on Physical, the second single of the album.

Battling Love Again for being the gold standard of pop retrofuturism, Physical contrasts the songs it shares a common tracklist with, in the way that it shifts the focus from funk and '90s-'00s disco house to 1980s darkwave and outrun.

The massive, menacing, militaristic synths driving and opening the track give a sense of utmost immediacy – transmitting the sensation of a virtual reality where you are driving your convertible into the sunset while the world closes in around you.

Accompanying the synthesizers, an ascending flute gradually fades in on the track – the combination of the two instruments best described as the sonic signature of a cyberpunk ABBA.

Its howling sound compares to a melodic nuclear siren, contributing to the track's sense of urgency; almost seeming like it's signalizing the approach of a Lovecraftian presence of unseen proportions, all while influencing humanity to run to the dance floor.

The chorus sounds like it serves as the soundtrack to the most expensive science fiction battle sequence of all time – high-energy, urgent, dynamic, loud, and pleasing to all senses.

The song reaches its climax on the bridge – where Lipa yells out "Baby, keep on dancing / Let's get physical" – making it perhaps even more addictive than the song's meteoric chorus.

It is a well-crafted, high-budget dance track, with a rich sound, and an even wealthier sense of sonic worldbuilding.

Another no-brainer highlight is Levitating.

Its intro consists of a vocal sample distorted to such an extent that it sounds like the rhythmic chanting of an extraterrestrial race – a weird, quirky, and amusing layer to the track's complexity.

Right from the beginning, it paints larger than life images of space and grandiosity as it tells a story about an attraction so deep that it exceeds planetary levels.

It is an electro-disco anthem, bringing elements like Daft Punk-inspired robotic backing vocals and a strong, rubbery bass line to the forefront.

Melodically, every structural piece of the track can serve as a hook on its own – the song is catchy, infectious, and unique through and through.

The post-chorus is especially attention-grabbing: "You can fly away with me tonight / You can fly away with me tonight" demanding to be replayed over and over and over again.

The bridge is playful and tongue-in-cheek: "My love is like a rocket, watch it blast off / And I'm feeling so electric, dance my ass off" – reminiscent of the comical and naive retro-futuristic lyricism of 80s disco.

Tone shifts with Pretty Please, a song with a stripped-down, skeletal production, with only a bass line carrying the track for almost its entirety.

And while the melody and production aren't all that captivating sans a groovy chorus and the cowbell's return on the breakdown, it is a welcome change of pace in the nebula of larger than life, fist-pumping dance tracks.

On Hallucinate, a four-on-the-floor type 2000's electro-disco track, the dancing immediately resumes after the short change of tempo.

Its production sports yet another groovy bass line, with a new addition of a thick kick drum continuously looping on top.

The melody and production are rich, the pre-chorus being an isolated, echoing sexual cry of the songstress, where the high notes Lipa reaches almost sound like the transmissions of alien warships out in the cosmos.

"Got me losing my mi-mi-mi-mind / Mi-mi-mi-mind", Lipa sings in the post-chorus, drawing influences from disco super group Boney M and vintage, syllable sing-stuttering Lady Gaga.

The track which embraces the classic disco sound the most is Love Again. The track, opening with a slow-burning violin intro that samples White Town's 1997 global hit Your Woman, tells a story about newfound love after a period of heartbreak.

Violins are notably the main selling force of the song; most powerful on the grandiose pre-chorus, where Lipa exclaims as the violins accompany her authoritative commands: "Show me! Touch me!" – a classic touch of vintage disco.

Strong ABBA influences are also present on the bridge, and the final chorus presents well-executed vocal acrobatics from the songstress as she harmonizes with herself and elevates the song onto an infinite, transcendent plane.

The track is a prime example of a well-read, well-studied pop song, using a classic soundbite and transforming it into something completely new – Love Again is a song of newfound hope, yet its execution presents a perfect storm between vintage melancholy and modern romance.

Break My Heart, is, for the most part, a slightly rehashed mix between Hallucinate and Levitating, which have already established themselves as instant classics on the record. It features a filtered bass line, a four-on-the-floor beat, and dynamic violin samples.

And although it still holds quite a catchy tune, it brings little to the table overall.

The bridge particularly lacks in complexion and pales in comparison with what the other tracks have to offer.

It is, similarly to the overall flow of the track, quite repetitive, and this doesn't feel justified since the melody is not that compelling to begin with.

Photo: Warner

Good In Bed marks the sonic return of early 2000’s Lilly Allen as Lipa comically raps her struggles about a man that gives her “good pipe in the moonlight” but is disappointing in every other aspect.

On first listen, the track might seem out of place or weird – and it is, but that’s what makes it one of the strongest songs on the record.

The piano-heavy production carried by a smooth bass line and the occasional bubble popping sound boasts personality, a sense of self-awareness and quirky humor while tackling an absurd, yet real subject.

While Lipa has stayed away from making any straightforward political stance on her sophomore album for the most part, the record's closing track, Boys Will Be Boys bursts the bubble of comfort.

A song about female empowerment and anti-woman aggression, the track questions society's decision to swipe the subject under the carpet and treating violence as a far too commonly used catchphrase of a mindset instead.

And while the track's outspoken nature is respectable among the sea of dance-pop tracks with catchy hooks that could be sung by almost any pop musician, the execution of the idea is a miss.

For one, the production doesn't hold up to the complex and rich blend of elements present on previous tracks.

Granted, this might have been the intention – to focus on the songwriting – but it's no use when that lacks as well.

"The kids aren't alright" and "It's all on TV" are all things that have been said before, and the second verse seems nothing else than a provocation built around the need for incorporating the word mansplained into the lyrics.

The overall message of the song is also halted by the creative decision to include a children's choir towards the end of the song.

It is not emotionally effective, but downright cheesy and unnecessary.

The track also doesn't hold up for the reason that it sits lonely as the only relatively serious and political track on the record, taking up the place of a proper closing song which would normally embody the entirety of the album and conclude it according to its overall atmosphere.

All things considered, Future Nostalgia is a fun, infectious, cohesive, and ambitious pop record.

While it could have used a stronger presence of artistic identity between its lines and a proper closer track to wrap it up and tie it with a nice bow, it does its job well and achieves its purpose – creating a sonic love letter to the sounds of pop music past while being a unique and quality pop record of today.

Score: 9

Photo: Warner