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Album review: Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’ wows with throwback disco sound and relevant themes

(Courtesy of Warner Records UK)

“Future Nostalgia”

Dua Lipa

Warner Records UK

Released Friday

By Eli Countryman

March 27, 2020 6:39 p.m.

Throwback disco clubs might just have to consider adding a few recently released songs to their playlists.

Dua Lipa looks to funk-filled musical influences from the ’70s and ’80s to make a modern statement in her latest album, “Future Nostalgia,” which was released Friday – a week earlier than expected after an online leak. Old-school influences layered over contemporary production allow Lipa to create a rare type of pop album. It’s one that plays upon nostalgic sounds but is also sure to incite nostalgia of its own in years to come.

The 11-track record owes much of its success to the pervasive disco-inspired instrumentation woven into each song. The titular “Future Nostalgia” sets the stage flawlessly, as synthesized rhythms and clap beats open the album. In the song’s first line, the self-proclaimed female alpha makes her ambitions clear, singing, “You want a timeless song, I wanna change the game.”

And it’s safe to say that’s exactly what each of the following tracks does.

Lipa cooks up the perfect recipe for dance clubs everywhere with “Hallucinate” – a pulsing beat and synth drum provide the groundwork for the impending chorus. It soon builds up as new techno sounds move the song into an upbeat groove. Production pulls back during the bridge, only to make its eventual return even sweeter.

[Related: Album review: The Weeknd authentically portrays heartache over past heartbreak in ‘After Hours’]

Faded, echoing beats make up the lead-in for “Break My Heart,” snapping into crisp focus moments later. But as Lipa begins to sing, they fade again, slowly building in intensity and clarity as her first verse drives faster and faster into the chorus. The song’s production comes to a climax as the singer wistfully wonders, “Am I falling in love with the one that could break my heart?” It then fades out, but the moment of silence expertly launches the track back into overdrive as Lipa decides not to let her lover go.

The ’80s disco qualities aid “Future Nostalgia” in saving songs that might otherwise feel generic. Eerily wavering synthesized rhythms accent fifth track “Levitating” by mimicking what it might sound like to float. The intricately applied production makes less-than-perfect lyrics like “my sugarboo” infinitely more bearable – and even enjoyable. And a techno breakdown in later moments of the following “Pretty Please” adds a satisfying end to the slower track’s journey.

But old-school pop is perfected in “Physical,” a track that could have easily been ripped from any one of the most popular ’80s VHS workout tapes coveted by mothers everywhere. As a diamond hidden within an album full of gold, the song capitalizes on modern technology to deliver a level of sonic clarity that could only mark it as the latest and greatest in pushing musical boundaries.

The high-end nostalgic production on the LP could easily overshadow a lesser singer, but Lipa’s exceptional performance is comparably masterful. A sheer variety of vocal styles, from the almost-spoken verses of “Future Nostalgia” to the voice breaks in “Cool,” showcase a range typically found in the works of seasoned professionals.

Raspy, wisplike vocals in “Cool” adorn the last syllable of almost every line of the track’s chorus, as Lipa describes an intimate relationship. Her execution conjures a suggestive mood similar to that of the later track “Good In Bed.”

[Related: Album review: Niall Horan departs from typical acoustic ballads in emotional narrative record]

The gentle, airy notes of “Good In Bed” characterize the verses, which question a relationship, while deeper vocal moments in the chorus confidently highlight the benefit of staying together: sex. Though the penultimate song lacks lyrical depth with comments like “I dedicate this verse to (verse to)/ All that good pipe in the moonlight,” the artist’s playful performance provides a suitable justification for the lines.

Most notable, however, is the lyrical messaging Lipa delivers during “Future Nostalgia”‘s most critical moments. As the final song, “Boys Will Be Boys” brings the album full circle by elaborating on the feminist theme of the opening track. Powerfully blunt lines like “If you’re offended by this song/ You’re clearly doing something wrong” refreshingly take over the narrative. Her approach provides clear commentary on the double standards surrounding gender roles and separates the artist from many others who shroud their messages in a vague mist.

Lead single “Don’t Start Now” hinted at Lipa’s empowering message for females even before the album’s release. In the aftermath of a failed relationship, the singer disregards her ex’s attempts to rekindle the fire with lyrics such as “I’m all good already/ So moved on, it’s scary.” From the first glimpse she provided into the record, Lipa prepared listeners for an unconventional, unrestrained sound.

And she delivered. With relevant social themes laced into a funky throwback sound, “Future Nostalgia” offers a timely break from current trends. But the album could mark an invigorating new trend – if the music industry should be so lucky.

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Eli Countryman | Alumnus
Countryman served as a senior staff writer. He was previously the 2018-2019 Music | Arts editor and an A&E reporter.
Countryman served as a senior staff writer. He was previously the 2018-2019 Music | Arts editor and an A&E reporter.
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