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Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia Review

March 30, 2020 | Posted by David Hayter
Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia
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Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia Review  

When Dua Lipa arrived on the scene in 2015 she was crassly dismissed as simply the next pre-packaged pop star. She arrived with a goading and undeniably brassy lead single “Blow Your Mind (Mwah)” – one of those songs that gets under the listener’s skin in the best possible way. She seemed fun, timely and enjoyably lightweight: few expected more than a big sassy single, a well-produced album and a short-lived summer flirtation. That was the theory anyway, but something strange happened: each single Dua Lipa released proved bigger, better and more well-rounded than its predecessor. In June 2017 she slipped out her debut album and critics (this one included) hopped on the bandwagon en masse. The album wasn’t perfect by any means, but something very special was going on, suddenly the commentariat were convinced that the UK had its next great pop superstar.

The conquest wasn’t yet complete, in one of the most baffling, but retrospectively brilliant manoeuvres in recent music history, Warner Bros. decided to release “New Rules” as a single a full month after Dua Lipa’s album launch. Had they missed the obvious or was it a coy meta-marketing plan? Who knows, but suffice to say, in her breakout post-breakup anthem Dua Lipa had the biggest and most universally lauded hit pop single in a generation. It’s remarkably rare for an artist to release a chart-crushing single so modern and so popular without inspiring anything resembling a backlash. Instead, Dua Lipa landed a huge, celebratory slot at Reading Festival 2018 (once the hallmark of alternative anti-pop culture) as her hit singles slowly crept across the Atlantic.

Suffice to say, Dua Lipa will not be taking anyone by surprise second time around. All eyes and immense scrutiny are directed at Lipa’s every release – not in hopes of tripping her up, but because the world is expecting greatness – a couple of bangers will not suffice. Well, if a critical Maginot line has been constructed, then I’m happy to report that Future Nostalgia is a veritable blitzkrieg: a stunningly sleek, immaculately executed, 37-minute decimation of any and all resistance. Putting preposterous analogies to one side, Future Nostalgia is an absolute riot: a thoughtful, empowered and enlightened love letter to dance music, glorious sex and the UK’s 21st century popstars.

Dua Lipa proves keenly self-aware without remotely over-thinking even a second of this breezy LP. On the deeply funky opener and title track she lays her cards on the table. She knows she has to live up to the hype, but she’s not sweating it: “you want a timeless song, I want to change the game/like modern architecture, John Lautner coming your way”. Confidence is the order of the day and Lipa exudes cocksure swagger in abundance (“No matter what you do, I’m gonna get it without you/I know you ain’t used to a female alpha”). She is a barbed tongued force of nature: her sheer confidence combined with the robotic funk march of arrangement propels everything onwards. This is pop music destined to inspire struts and strides.

It’s hard to stress just how phenomenal a table setter “Future Nostalgia” proves to be, not only is it a perfect pop single and mission statement, it’s a promise that Dua Lipa goes on to fulfil. In a sense this album is defined by nostalgia (from a cavalcade of sonic reference points and a glorious resurrection of naturalistic, pre-EDM dance music), but it never, not for one second, sounds dated. This is modern music. Future Nostalgia manages to delve into the past without being reverential or retrospective, this is music that lives, breathes, pants and foams: each beat and groove feels urgent and alive. Dua Lipa is delivering, however improbably, Future Nostalgia.

There’s one remarkable effective test of whether a pop record is truly firing on all cylinders: do the gigantic singles that launched the album compliment the collection or cast the rest of the material in shadow? The Nile Rodgers inspired chin-up strut of “Don’t Start Now” and the barmy propulsion of dancing-as-fucking-as-loving anthem “Physical” actively sound better as a part of the Future Nostalgia collective. “Physical” shines in particular. It might be the “lesser” single with all its 80s workout daffiness, but those glorious bridges and power-pop asides only soar higher with repeated listens. In isolation none of the track’s many hooks or melodies are revelatory or hugely original, but it’s the deft tonal juxtaposition and incredible economy of space that makes each individual element shine. Sadly, Covid-19 has robbed Dua Lipa of the chance to see a field of festival fans clapping along like an army of extras in an Olivia Newton John video to “Physical’s” knowingly ridiculous late track breakdown.

Part of the fun of Future Nostalgia is seeing all the subtle nods Dua Lipa is throwing out to her heroes and peers. The sweet “Cool” – arguably the second weakest song on the collection – feels like a divine hybrid of Carly Rae’s tender retrospective innocence, The 1975’s synth-pop-sincerity and Taylor Swift’s snap. The buoyant “Levitate” bounces along blending classic British dance music with a big dollop of shimmering disco, but before this intergalactic ode to orgasms can reach its crescendo, Dua Lipa decides to flip the script and pay tribute to Tinnie Tempah’s “Passout” of all things: “I’m feeling so electric (dance my arse off!)”. The contrasting elements should stick in the listener’s craw, but Dua has an incredible nous for avoiding inertia with a little radical juxtaposition and it’s always her own hooks that land the hardest (“You want me, I want you baby/My sugar boo, I’m levitating”).

The tributes continue to come thick and fast. It’s fitting that on an album defined by earth shatteringly awesomel sex that Dua’s one tale of a dysfunctional relationship is a tribute to both Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse. There’s plenty of smoky Amy illusions in the bridge and vocal tone, but the lyric sheet and chorus are pure Lily in their cheeky faux-naive bluntness (“You always let me down boy, but when you’re going down, I get so up”). The arrangement has the fairy tale, ska-inspired plink and ponk of Alright, Still, but Dua Lipa drops her lyrical bombs in a fashion that is truly her own: “I dedicate this verse to all that good pipe in the moonlight…we don’t know how to talk, but damn we know how to fuck”.

It could be tempting to consider Future Nostalgia a survey of modern pop and classic dance, but this is no smorgasbord, the iron grip and singular vision of authorship resounds. Every track speaks to Dua Lipa personality, charisma and messaging. Speaking of messaging, Future Nostalgia feels like an important break from a pop world where sex is expressed in one of two forms: psychological torturous (Drake, The Weeknd, Post-Malone) or as a callous and empty “I’ll snatch your girl” boast (trap rappers). In this sense, Dua Lipa feels like an equal and opposite reaction to current market forces. She is not a female Miguel, she is not singing about the satisfaction of true lifelong commitment, these are songs of raw, carnal, fucking – and guess what, just like said fucking, they are tremendous fun. Less no-strings-attached and more let’s work together to blow each others minds and, hey,  if we go are separate ways, so be it, and if not, cool.

The sleak creep of “Pretty Please” is a work of pure yearning. Dua Lipa’s mind is running wild, not with regret or remorse, but with giddy expectation. She is gagging for it and damn proud of it. Dua wants to be fucked (“exactly where I want me, underneath your body”) and fucked ungodly hard (“if we take it further, I swear I ain’t gonna break, so baby come try me”). In pop world of defined by overwrought psychoanalysis it is genuinely refreshing to hear someone say – you know what, my mind is racing, I’m full of tension, it’s driving me nuts, so do me a favor and fuck my brains out.

There’s plenty of talk about sex positivity and empowerment in modern music – and Future Nostalgia is certainly doing and achieving that – but the brilliance of this music lies in the fact that Dua is not spelling it out, actively campaigning or analysing her sex life on a meta-level. There is no sermonizing and this certainly ins’t a PSA, Future Nostalgia is all about hands on hips, sweat on sweat, moonlight piping (as she puts it).

Naturally, there are too many illusions to 90s, early 2000s and 70s dance music to waste time listing them all but, in one particularly inspired moment, Dua throws her reference right in the listener’s face. “Love Again” – the rare song not explicitly about fucking – sees Dua finally finding a partner worth sinking her teeth into and this pitch shifting moment is brought to life by a bulldozingly obvious sample of “Your Woman” by White Town (one of the greatest No.1 singles in British chart history). In the wrong hands such an instantly recognisable sample could be considered crass, but the blend of acoustic guitars and strings swell so divinely that the daring sample feels justified. The obvious comparison point would be Madonna’s equally brazen and successful executed Abba sample on “Hung Up”.

It’s important to state, on an album that uses dancing as an explicit metaphor for fucking, that Future Nostalgia is firmly targeted at the hips. Were it not for Covid-19 there is no question that nightclubs and bars across the world would be grooving and grinding to the shimmers and sashays of “Break My Heart”. There are so many records that pay homage to 90s dance and 70s disco without being remotely danceable, they are phenomenal listens, but mere objects of study and appreciation. Dua Lipa has achieved both, there are a treasure trove of references points to excitedly dissect, but who can honestly be bothered when you could be bumping and grinding to these elastic grooves and sequin shooting guitar lines?

Fittingly, Dua Lipa finishes an album that celebrates fucking and free love with a stark reminder that our wonderfully fluid and open carnal society should be built on consent, respect and equality rather than intimidation, imposition or insult. “It’s second nature to walk home before the sun goes down and put your keys between your knuckles when there’s boys around/Isn’t it funny how we laugh it off to hide our fear, when there’s nothing funny here?” No one can accuse Dua Lipa of being a prude, the previous 34-minutes more than confirm this fact, but she does want a safer, more equal and  more fun society in which to have copious amounts of wet, dripping, unrepentant sex.

It’s sad to end on a bum note, but I’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss “Hallucinate”: it’s a fine, danceable, buoyant and charming little track – the kind of single Moloko might release were they to debut in 2020. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that track per se, but it’s striking on an album that is overflowing with killer material to run into a effort that’s merely pleasant. The arrangement is shrewd enough and Dua Lipa lyrics are crafty, but the punch, snap, dynamism and wild juxtapositions that permeate the rest of Future Nostaglia are almost entirely absent.

Such is Future Nostalgia’s strength that even the slightest slip from great-to-good sticks out like a sore thumb on this truly dynamite collection. Dua Lipa and her producers have sculpted a love letter to the naturalistic, pre-EDM, non-Balearic dance music of the 00s, 90s and 70s as well as the great British female popstars of this century. Despite the nostalgia, Dua’s sophomore release never feels retrospective; it is urgent, energetic and utterly consumed by the sensation of swaying in unison on the dancefloor and having your brains fucked out in the bedroom.

Future Nostalgia is a celebration of modern lovemaking – under different circumstances I’d encourage you to give this record a spin before you dress up, head out, find a willing partner and have the night of your life – as is, you’ll have to stick it on and dance your arse off in self-isolation.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Dua Lipa's headstrong Future Nostalgia is a buoyant, breezy and brilliant love letter to classic dance music and glorious, consensual, earth-shatteringly good fucking. Tragically, thanks to Covid-19, we are in lockdown and cannot race to the nearest dancefloor to find love (if only for a night) soundtracked by this glorious, shimmering, stallion of record. That being said, statisticians are predicting a baby boom while we're all stuck in social isolation, well Dua Lipa's fuck-friendly Future Nostalgia is certainly doing its part.

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Dua Lipa, David Hayter