Album Review: Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia

Album Review: Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia | Random J Pop

Dua Lipa is big. Even for me, being a Brit and living in the UK, I didn't fully grasp just how big Dua was until I saw her turning up to MET Galas, winning Grammys and being tapped to sing themes for Blockbuster films. My grasp of Dua's magnitude was the US taking note of her. Because in all honesty, I'm somewhat oblivious to what's happening in UK music and UK Pop. Which may cause you to discredit this review of her album. But, whatever.

I only listened to Dua Lipa's debut album after listening to her second, and realised that I'd actually already heard the album, because so much of it is played constantly in my gym, on radio and in TV commercials. The bitch is everywhere.

So it comes as no surprise now, that her second studio album is long awaited, anticipated and that it would have probably broken a Spotify streaming record and topped a chart by the time you read this.

Listening to Duolingo's debut album after Future Nostalgia is an interesting experience, because it fills in gaps and gives me a more rounded look at who Dua is and where Future Nostalgia made its leap from. And the best way to describe Future Nostalgia is as a reintroduction of who Dua is or at least wants to be musically. Dua's debut album was split between songs which were based on trends of the time and then Pop records which sounded like something from the 80s that you'd heard before. Future Nostalgia revels in the latter and expands on it, revealing that her collaborations with Silk City and Calvin Harris were very specific choices to cultivate that.

Future Nostalgia doesn't sound wholly new, which is kinda the whole point of it. Every song pulls from the 70s and 80s as frame of references to deliver song which feel familiar - whether it's because you know music from the era or another artist has tried to do the same thing; because music over the past 10 years has included revivals of these sounds. It truly is remarkable that "Don't Start Now" is an original composition, when the bass and the strings sounds so much like samples from a pre-existing song. Familiarity is a large part of Dua's brand. As aforementioned, I'd heard her whole album without even realising it before ever sitting down to listen to it. But even when I'd heard those songs for the first time they didn't feel like the first time. I assumed they were old songs when I heard 'em out in the wild. The main issue with this, is that at times it can cause Future Nostalgia to feel like a one trick pony. Not every song on this album is as memorable as the singles. The only song that I could distinctly name and remember after listening to the album for the first time was "Levitating", which is one of the albums' best songs and will surely become a single.

It would have been nice if the breadth of sounds on this album were just a teeny bit broader and dipped into other sounds of the times as "Future Nostalgia", "Physical", "Levitating" and "Hallucination" do, because the other half of the album is made up of funk and this is the sound which anchors the album. Not that these songs are bad, but the fatigue of electric bass and guitar licks did start to wear thin after a while.

But whilst the sounds run similar and bleed into one, it's the lyrics which help set the songs apart, as each one tells some form of story. But collectively they do make up a whole, which is claiming ownership of your own independence - whether it's as a woman or a lover. Dua isn't coy on this album. Much like a Rihanna, a SZA, an Ari Lennox or pretty much every Black female rapper in existence, Dua isn't afraid of being frank about sex and her needs the way in which men have done on songs since the beginning of time.

Album Review: Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia | Random J Pop

Dua's new frankness and confidence is part of the charm of this album. But Future Nostalgia feels like an album based on fiction. It's like the creation of a world that Dua wishes she could live in, with a version of herself she wishes she could be more like. When Dua is rapping on "Future Nostalgia" it feels like being a fly on the wall of a moment where Dua is in the mirror rapping to herself and willing this other version of her to life, and I really like this. It shows that Dua wants to change evolve and not be the same girl that everybody was saying had nothing to her and no stage presence.

Dua sounds far more confident here than she did on her debut. However I do feel on a couple of tracks that the vocal production could have been pushed a little more, as she doesn't always give the songs the right energy. Dua sounds fine, hits the notes and doesn't fumble. But we don't always get a performance and the music production is what carries the song more than Dua herself. "Hallucinate" is one such example. The music is so jovial and euphoric, but Dua sounds so flat on the hook. Kylie Minogue would NEVER. The are so few songs on this album that make me feel they couldn't work with somebody else, because aside from a really nice tone, Dua doesn't put her whole foot in these songs the way she should have.

I have to hand it Duolingo. In a game where so many artists in Pop chase trends and try to find their way to an album sound by seeing what sticks with singles, Dua has maintained a tight level of consistency with this album, which you could mark back to her Silk City collab "Electricity", which would fit perfectly here. Her A&R did a great job selecting a pool of songs which sit well together and feel consistent as sums of a part, despite the number of writers and producers involved.

Things falter at the end of the album however, with "Good In Bed" and "Boys Will Be Boys". Both songs deviate so drastically from the M.O. of the rest of the album, both sonically and lyrically.

"Good In Bed" has a 90s Hip-Hop vibe about it which sounds so out of place. And "Boys Will Be Boys" is almost genre and era-less. "Boys Will Be Boys" would have worked far better if it had a set of drums and synths on it to make it more dance-able and add to the drama of the song, as per the likes of Madonna's "Let It Will Be" or "Alterlife". Two songs which could have worked as slower, stripped down songs, but are made more powerful because they aren't. The whole album is so funky and uptempo, that to suddenly flip into this ballad type song feels weird. The standard edition of her debut did the same thing by serving you uptempo Pop for 10 tracks and then sticking you with a dreary ass song penned by Gwenyth Paltrow's ex-husband. The lyrics to both songs are also pretty clumsy in comparison to the rest of the album, where the lyrics and the melodic pockets are so much tighter and far more considered. They don't ruin the album by any means, but it really is a clumsy way to end things. I honestly would have taken both of these songs just being scrapped and for "Electricity" to be slapped onto the end.

Future Nostalgia is a wonderfully produced album though. The whole thing being underpinned by funk provides a nice richness and a texture in the production which isn't wholly typical of Pop. There is no song on this album which sounds like it has something missing or could have done with more. Even though "Boys Will Be Boys" would have worked better as a dance record, it doesn't feel incomplete as it is. When Dua tours this album, she should definitely do so with a live band, because some of these songs would sound fantastic live. The production does overshadow Dua though and in many cases, it kinda makes her.

Album Review: Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia | Random J Pop

We've had artists deliver great retro future albums in the past and many more will continue to. Kylie did it in 2001 with Fever. Madonna did it in 2005 with Confessions on a dance floor. Perfume did it in 2009 with . La Roux been doing it. All just as well as Dua did here. In fact, better. But this is a good sophomore album which betters the first. And just with her debut, she will have an easy run of singles that will take her well into 2021. More so now, given that Miss Corona's contamination world tour has put everything on hold.

Future Nostalgia doesn't stick with me as an album though. "Don't Start Now" and "Physical" were great single choices, because they're utter ear-worms. But aside from "Levitating", nothing else on this album immediately stood out to me, as all of the songs kinda just melded into one. It's a nice sounding album, I knew that much when it was done. But I was hard pressed to name any song that really stuck with me until I'd listened to it for a forth and a fifth time.

Future Nostalgia is an album that Dua and her fans should be proud of. And much to Dua and her team's credit, the singles and the album title itself do a great job of selling itself conceptually. So well to the point that there are no surprises. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.


Album highlights:
■ Don't Start Now
■ Cool
■ Levitating ★ J's fave
■ Pretty Please