Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’ is a slightly disappointing nu-disco dance party
Generic vocal melodies and a rough final stretch harm otherwise immaculately produced pop record
Album: “Future Nostalgia”
Artist: Dua Lipa
Release Date: March 27
Label: Warner Records UK
The majority of today’s biggest pop stars may not have been alive for the 1980s, but nostalgia for the decade is always seeping into most of their new music.
The Weeknd’s fantastic new “After Hours” spends its entire second half paying homage to the decade. Lady Gaga has been showcasing her love for the ‘80s her entire career.
And now, UK singer Dua Lipa becomes the latest artist to let the sounds of the decade into her newest record.
Judging by the title “Future Nostalgia” though, this isn’t a simple throwback-trip. Lipa brings the sounds of the ‘80s into the present, paying tribute to the decade while covering it in a neatly produced sheen that could only be accomplished in modern music.
Most of the album features disco-style “four-on-the-floor” dance beats, catchy synth basslines and Lipa’s flawless vocals. But the album only partially succeeds, occasionally falling into the trappings of becoming generic and failing to live up to all of the potential it showcases.
“Future Nostalgia” is at its best in the beginning. The opening title track is a certified bop. Pounding drum beats, robotic vocals singing the name of the song and Lipa’s confident and empowering talk-singing combine to create a strong opener. Lipa’s lyrics are also fun while being tongue-in-cheek, with a highlight being “I can’t build you up if you ain’t tough enough, I can’t teach a man how to wear his pants.”
And the follow-up track and mega single, “Don’t Start Now,” shines above. The song –– a kiss-off of partners who only show affection after the relationship has already passed –– takes the elements of “Future Nostalgia” and turns them up to the max. The bassline is even stronger, Lipa’s vocal melody is more memorable and the song is already a destined dancefloor classic.
Recent single “Physical” recalls the work of Daft Punk, with a modern-disco synth bassline that simultaneously sounds like the ‘80s and the days of early YouTube, while throwing immaculate modern production on top of it. Plus, Lipa’s pre-chorus “Who needs to go to sleep when I got you next to me?” is an earworm for the ages.
Unfortunately, the album starts to fall into a lull that it never recovers from at the halfway mark. The danceable beats stay danceable and the basslines stay catchy, but they fail to reach the heights of the first half.
“Pretty Please” is fun enough but it doesn’t sound like anything you couldn’t hear by stepping into Forever 21. “Break My Heart” interpolates the INXS-classic “Need You Tonight” but doesn’t do anything with it to make it very interesting.
At this point in the album, Lipa’s vocal melodies also fail to stand out among the amazing production. She tends to fade into the background on the majority of the songs from “Pretty Please” to “Break My Heart.”
“Good In Bed” does break this streak, as her vocals finally take the forefront once again, but not in the most positive way. The chorus –– “I know it’s really bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, messing with my head, head, head, head, head, we drive each other mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, but baby, that’s what makes us good in bed” –– with its descending melody is completely annoying. It sounds like a slightly improved Meghan Trainor song, but breaks the danceable streak the record held up to this point.
But the worst song on the album is easily closer “Boys Will Be Boys.” The message is fantastic, with lyrics like “It’s second nature to walk home before the sun goes down and put your keys between your knuckles when there’s boys around,” hitting hard.
The instrumental is horrible though. It sounds like a “Frozen 2” outtake cleaned up for the pop charts and hinders the message more than it helps.
The closing stretch of this album does a lot to hurt what is otherwise a very fun and danceable pop record. A newfound ‘80s influence is a welcome addition to her sound, but once Lipa loses it, the songs suffer, too.
There are a lot of strong songs to be found on “Future Nostalgia.” But as a full package, it is hard not to feel slightly disappointed.
Alex Whetham is the Senior Arts Editor at The Spectrum and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @alexo774