On ‘Future Nostalgia,’ Dua Lipa moves forward in reverse

“You want a timeless song, I wanna change the game,” challenges rising global superstar Dua Lipa on the opening line of her sophomore LP – the boldly titled Future Nostalgia.

"Future Nostalgia" Dua Lipa
Future Nostalgia, Warner Music UK

Does she do it? No. Is that okay? Yes. Future Nostalgia isn’t a game changer, but a blast from the past with a modern twist.

Lipa broke into the mainstream a few years ago with her global smash “New Rules.” The world was taken aback by her fearlessness, killer vocals, charisma, and that RASP. Oh, that rasp…

Now comes what many rising stars dread – the second album. What music industry figures consider a make or break moment for a pop artist, the second album separates a one hit wonder from an industry mainstay.

Many have tried, many have failed.

Late last year came Camila Cabello’s best foot, the hugely promoted flop that was Romance. Where Cabello failed, artists like Lorde have overcome the pressure of a second record. Her matured, fuller sound on Melodrama established Lorde as an artist, not just the shiny new toy she worried she had been.

With Future Nostalgia, Dua Lipa follows in the footsteps of women like Lorde. The album, deftly kept at a tight 11 tracks, tries not to overstay its welcome. It exists in a world inhabited by throwbacks to 80s synth-pop and disco. This focused selection pays off, almost too well.

Formulaic to a fault, the album is solid dance pop. Songs sound similar and themes become redundant, but there is enough fun to overlook these fallacies.

Future Nostalgia takes a few listens to fully grip the listener. Not unlike the nights out that begin with a hesitant first few shots, once the buzz kicks in its full speed ahead. Its the type of pop music that forces listeners to surrender, only to obsess after around the fourth or fifth listen.

Future Nostalgia‘s best timestamps are those that fully embrace disco. The pre-released standout remains “Don’t Start Now.” Her best song yet, the disco infused pop banger balances the futuristic, nostalgic thesis of the entire album with ease. Universal, timeless, and provocative, it’s the perfect escapist pop single.

Lipa’s charisma shines best on the single. She adopts a funky, sexy vernacular throughout the song. Her confidence seeps into the listener’s mind, completely taking over.

That confidence is soon reversed on the next track “Cool,” a bouncy instrumental on which Lipa tells listeners of a lover that has her so enamored she loses stability. Another highlight, the song is destined for that Sunday morning drive for coffee with some friends.

The sunset imagery of “Cool” turns to night and the party intensifies with the darker “Physical,” the second single from the album. “Physical” is the perfect example of the aforementioned slow burn effect of many of the record’s songs. Evoking not much more than an “eh” on first listen, the single soon becomes a head thrasher the more it’s played.

This rhythm continues on the club banger “Hallucinate” and the midtempo “Levitate.” Both fun tracks, they don’t quite excel to the heights of “Don’t Start Now.”

One of the more delightfully laid back moments on the album is on “Pretty Please.” Giving listeners an intermission from the rave, the sultry track is a nice break. While Lipa is the least interesting aspect of the track, the production is too much fun to overlook. It wonderfully merges the synth and disco sitting at the album’s center.

After the tounge-and-cheek outlier “Good In Bed,” Lipa closes the album with an orchestral feminist anthem “Boys Will Be Boys.” It’s an okay song, but it has no place on this record from a sonic standpoint. It feels jarring and ends the album with a question mark rather than an exclamation point.

The few inconsistencies and areas played safely are what prevent Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia from standing among the best dance records in pop. Instead the LP is a set piece for the brilliance to come.

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