With its memorable songwriting, distinct vocals, and instantly relatable defiant tone, Dua Lipa’s first album left some weighty expectations. When “Physical” dropped earlier this year, we got a small taste of what was coming, and anyone who was paying attention could tell we were probably in for something fantastic. Although it rightly made an impression when it came out, “Physical,” while excellent, is only one of several incredible, highly memorable tracks. By any measure, Lipa has outdone herself with Future Nostalgia (★★★★★), upping her game with a greater range, an expanded musical pallet, and a whole lot of disco-pop brilliance.
Future Nostalgia turns out to have been an apt title. From the crisp synths of “Cool” to the funky bass guitar of “Pretty Please” to the dreamy, kitschy space-rock of “Levitating,” Lipa seems to have had a lot of fun playing with the very concept of nostalgia — virtually every track on the album leans on references and callbacks, from the more recent past to eras and trends she was not even alive for. The stunning “Love Again,” the clear standout in an album full of standouts, owes much of its success to a brilliantly used trumpet sample copped from Al Bowlly, by way of White Town’s 1997 hit, “Your Woman.”
As much fun as Lipa is having here, the lyrics themselves often land quite heavily. Even the more playful “Pretty Please” and “Good In Bed” carry a sense of urgent physicality under their catchy, upbeat tone. She leaves the most arresting track for the very end, though, with “Boys Will Be Boys” calling out the regressive attitudes that, to paraphrase, allow boys to be boys but force girls to be women — in her words, the “sick intuition that they taught us so we won’t freak out.”
Colorful, joyful, and demanding to be danced to from beginning to end, Dua Lipa’s sophomore album in many ways arrived at both the best and worst possible time. Obviously, an LP takes months to craft and this one would have come out with or without a pandemic raging. Still, an album that makes this strong an impression arriving in the middle of one of the most fraught, unusual periods in living memory is going to sound like a product of its time. Having landed on the leading edge of fear and uncertainty, Future Nostalgia provides a welcome release. At a time when we are unable to go out and gather together, we can at least put on the best dance-pop of the year so far and feel some much-needed joy.
Future Nostalgia is available on most streaming services, including Spotify and Apple Music, and for sale on www.Amazon.com.
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