Album Review: Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’ Is A Perfect Pop Escape

Mike Nied | March 30, 2020 12:54 pm

Dua Lipa is the hero we need in 2020. And she’s doing everything right. In a time of global uncertainty, the 24-year-old brings a breath a fresh air with the release of her sophomore album Future Nostalgia. Out March 27 (one week ahead of schedule), the collection provides respite from the glut of negative energy. Suffice to say, there’s no sophomore slump here. Instead, the Best New Artist Grammy winner delivers an effortlessly cool collection of tightly crafted anthems. Clocking in at 11 songs, Future Nostalgia is a finely oiled machine. It’s goal? To provide top-tier pop escapism.

Make no mistake, this is a call to dance at a time when dancing (or even smiling) is desperately needed. The end result is a testament to the transformative qualities of good music. But the LP offers more than just an opportunity to forget the harshest realities of 2020. Even without the threat of a world-altering pandemic, Future Nostalgia is literal feel-good perfection. While her peers are flooding streaming platforms with moodier mid-tempos, Dua resolutely lifted the beats per minute with tracks like “Don’t Start Now” and “Physical.” The end result is quick, mercurial and a throwback to the most fun days in pop history. That’s not all, either.

This is a rare case of all killer, no filler. Seriously, there’s not a single song to skip in the bunch. So take a bow, Miss Peep. You deserve that and so much more.

1. “Future Nostalgia”

I know you ain’t used to a female alpha.

Future Nostalgia wastes no time setting out a mission statement. Instead it opens with its title track, which emerges as the most sonically experimental song of the bunch. Produced by Jeff Bhasker, the funky soundscape is characterized by a grungy bass and tinkering keys. That sets the scene for Dua’s brazen lyrics. “I know you’re dying trying to figure me out. My name’s on the tip of your tongue, keep running your mouth. You want the recipe but can’t handle my sound,” she chants before calling herself a female alpha. No questions asked, she earned that title.

2. “Don’t Start Now”

Don’t show up. Don’t come out. Don’t start caring about me now.

Songs like “New Rules” or “One Kiss” make it clear that Dua Lipa knows her way around bops. However, nothing quite prepared us for the perfection that is “Don’t Start Now.” The era-launching, breakup banger is a disco-flavored bop that stays grounded in both the past and present. Her joyful declaration of independence ranked as the best song of 2019 on our year-end list and has aged like a fine wine. If life is fair, it will finally reach a well-deserved peak at the number one slot on the Billboard Hot 100 in the coming weeks.

3. “Cool”

We got the heat and the thrill ’cause you’re more than any pill.

Gwen Stefani and Dua Lipa have something in common. Both divas have divine songs titled “Cool” in their discographies. While Gwen’s take on the title picks up at the end of a relationship, Dua’s is all about the initial rush of falling in love. And the whimsical lyrics (crafted with the assistance of “Cool Girl” and Swede-pop mastermind Tove Lo) paint a glorious picture of a summer romance in its earliest days. Her hopeful tone paired with an epic drum line makes this one of the most beguiling songs on the stacked tracklist.

4. “Physical”

All night I’ll riot with you.

The party hits full riot mode as Dua moves into “Physical.” The ’80s-tinged banger is a bone-rattling anthem that works in a clever reference to Olivia Newton-John’s classic of the same name. Production-wise, Jason Evigan and KOZ’s work is a tropical storm that beats down and only gets bigger as it progresses. And Dua’s irresistible demands to get physical are endlessly sexy. Especially at a time like this, the clarion command to let loose and dance is a necessary escape from the ongoing dread of reality.

5. “Levitating”

Baby, let me take you for a ride.

Next up is “Levitating,” and this starry-eyed love song is a straight up sugar rush. “I got you, moonlight. You’re my starlight,” she coos on the electrifying chorus. “I need you all night. Come on, dance with me. I’m levitating.” The intergalactic adventure continues on the equally lush verses, all of which expose the power of Dua’s feelings for a partner. Breezy and feel-good, it’s another gem that has no shortage of potential as an eventual single.

6. “Pretty Please”

I need your hands on me. Sweet relief.

Julia Michaels flexes her mighty pen on a lusty and exceedingly relatable mid-tempo called “Pretty Please.” Laying her throaty vocals over a production courtesy of Ian Kirkpatrick, Dua pleads for physical release during an emotionally tense moment with a partner. “I know that I seem a little stressed out. But you’re here now, and you’re turning me one. I wanna feel a different kind of tension,” she teases. How do you say no to that prospect? Things only get better as a cowbell comes in.

7. “Hallucinate”

I hallucinate when you call my name.

Bops like “Physical” and “Levitating” are exceptional floor-fillers. However, even they pale in comparison to the glory that is “Hallucinate.” This is a balls-to-the-wall, synth-pop delight that is bound to send your heart rate skyrocketing. The stutter-riddled chorus in particular is a sing-along moment that will come to life in incredible ways once it can finally be played in the clubs. Until then, the electrified beats (courtesy of producers SG Lewis and Stuart Price, the latter of Confessions On A Dance Floor fame) will have you literally floating through any in-home workouts.

8. “Love Again”

Used to be afraid of love and what it might do. But goddamn, you got me in love again.

Next up, Dua lays her heart bare over gorgeous strings and disco beats on “Love Again.” This one works in a sample of “Your Woman” by White Town and finds the “New Rules” superstar bravely offering up her heart to a new partner. It’s a bruised but triumphant testament to her faith in love, which has been shaken before but refuses to die out. “Show me that heaven’s right here, baby. Touch me so I know I’m not crazy,” she croons before falling head over heels on the chorus. This moment of vulnerability is in sharp contrast to the excess of confidence displayed on “Don’t Start Now,” but her dulcet voice works just as well in this situation.

9. “Break My Heart”

Am I falling in love with the one that could break my heart?

No other song on Future Nostalgia is as perfectly crafted for crying on the dance floor as “Break My Heart.” Incorporating a sample of INXS’s “Need You Tonight,” this retro-inspired romp is all about the risks of falling in love. “I should’ve stayed at home ’cause now there ain’t no letting you go,” she sings over deceptively bright beats. “Am I falling in love with the one that could break my heart?” The emotionally fraught lyrics effortlessly capture the anxieties associated with letting someone in and adds more depth to Dua’s discography. As an added bonus, it’s also a stone-cold bop.

10. “Good In Bed”

We don’t know how to talk. But damn, we know how to fuck.

“Good In Bed” is just as cheeky as the title suggests. Here Dua depicts a relationship where nothing comes together. Well, there’s one exception. She and her partner may not get along, but they have exceptional sex. And the lyrics (crafted by a team of winners including rising star UPSAHL) are campy in the best way. Any song that refers to “all that good pipe in the moonlight” is an instant winner in my book. But that’s just me…

11. “Boys Will Be Boys”

Boys will be boys, but girls will be women.

Although the majority of the tracklist is comprised of slick dance pop focused on individual relationships, Future Nostalgia closes out on a serious note with “Boys Will Be Boys.” On it Dua takes on the unbalanced expectations society places on young women in comparison to men. “Boys will be boys, but girls will be women,” she declares after resolutely laying out the realities of growing up as a girl. The addition of a choir and epic strings elevate the well-intentioned track. It’s an unexpected but timely closer that positions Dua as both a pop icon and a socially minded individual with plenty to say and the voice to back it up.

Score: 5/5

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