Review Summary: All hail the Neon Queen.
Embark on a journey to the alternative 2020 the disco years imagined. A world where luxury flying cars stripe the night sky, funky dance moves dominate the floors, and flashy colours reign uncontested. As we experience the anxious shroud of a planet gone immobile, Dua Lipa refuses to stand still and delivers her bouncy soundtrack to a Saturday Night Fever set in a neon future.
"You want a timeless song, I want to change the game".
This is a record made with intention, and it shows. While mainstream pop often falters on album format and tends to only focus on a select few hit tracks, Future Nostalgia
clearly refuses the status quo and takes the opposite stand. It sets itself as a piece of music designed to be heard in full, with a consistent sound, an intentional structure, and its own personality.
The first few seconds offer a glimpse of Dua Lipa’s prior catalogue. And one can’t help but think that this introductory section was included as a voluntary red herring to falsely indicate a lack of evolution. For the listener is shortly thereafter caught in a whirlwind of huge reverberated synth pads, anthemic lyrics supported by newfound sci-fi backing vocals, and emphasised bass giving the ensemble a vintage groove. Buckle up, you are taking off and Dua is in the pilot seat. “If you wanna run away with me, I know a galaxy, I can take you for a ride”.
If Future Nostalgia
is Dua’s kitsch spaceship, bass is doubtlessly its engine. Along with her voice, it is the single most consistent element on the album. Groovy, bouncy, and delightfully prominent, it makes up the foundation of the entire record, turning each and every track into an incredibly fun and danceable piece of synth-infused funk pop. While perhaps not too evident in the opening track, this is made clear by the follow up Don’t Start Me Now
. Synths colouring the sound are stripped away entirely in the chorus, leaving bass, voice, and drums to keep the groove alive on their own. Much like the now vintage music genres it echoes back to, this is an album where the booty shakes out of sheer four-stringed goodness. Bass to move your bum, anthems to sing along to, and synths to illuminate your mind: therein lies the essence of Dua Lipa’s offering.
It is no surprise Future Nostalgia
bears echoes of the past, with Nile Rodgers being famously involved in the compositional process, and Dua’s previously seen vintage aesthetics. The video to 2017 banger One Kiss
was probably the clearest sign. With this new opus, Dua Lipa retains her deep house roots and decidedly remains a mainstream pop singer at heart, but the newly infused auras of city pop, future funk, and disco turn her sound into a delightful sci-fi blend evoking both the 1980’s, the 2010’s, and every decade in between. With 2020’s pop being as of yet uncharted territory, Dua Lipa chooses to draw a map of its past to illustrate where it could be headed - a choice most evidently crystallised by Break My Heart
’s modern homage to INXS’ 1987 classic Need You Tonight
. Strangely enough, this neat and consistent musical direction is abruptly abandoned on the very closing track, where both the 80’s evoking synths and funky bass feel painfully absent. In contrast to the qualities that preceded it, the song feels like a reminder of filler material found on Dua’s prior records. The only dent in an otherwise immaculate pop jewel – the first of hopefully many to decorate Dua Lipa’s crown on her neon throne.
The very fact that it takes so long for Future Nostalgia
to first stumble goes to show that it is not your regular singles-based pop record, but a beast of a rather different kind. In fact, one would be hard pressed to guess which songs were meant to be released as singles, or which will attain commercial success. This makes the album less immediate, but also means its replay value is truly excellent. Each listen comes with a new different line or a different melody the listener will be humming along all day - and that is probably where radio-tailored pop music finds its value most supreme.