With so many big-name artists delaying or cancelling their releases, since, due to COVID, they would be unable to tour them, thank heavens for Dua Lipa, whose campaign for her magnificent pop album Future Nostalgia has proceeded unabated. The album dropping at the end of last February, just as the threat COVID posed began to really dawn on the world, she and her team continued to promote the album and broke new ground in the domain of virtual live shows. With many superstars sitting on their albums throughout the lockdown, the few big names who did press on—tour be damned— reaped the benefits of the open field, in streams, sales and accolades. Besides the virtual concert performances, Future Nostalgia has been buoyed by the release of many remixes, some already compiled into the Club Future Nostalgia collaborative album between Lipa and The Blessed Madonna.
Almost a full year from its initial release, Lipa is still touting her record around town with a new ‘Moonlight’ edition, including four new tracks and many of the collaborative singles she has dropped in recent months. I guess when you make an album as phenomenal as Future Nostalgia, you’re within your rights to flog it to death. Mainstream pop albums this good are a once-a-generation type of deal, and I’d say we’ve not seen a pop album as good and as accessible as Future Nostalgia since Britney Spear’s Blackout in 2007.
Of the collabs already in rotation, there’s “Prisoner” which already featured on Miley Cyrus’s terrific recent album and made itself a highlight there. Lipa and Cyrus have phenomenal chemistry when trading choruses and the track’s glittering, throbbing Olivia Newton-John worship is thoroughly in Lipa’s wheelhouse. The DaBaby remix of “Levitating”, was a surprising delight, with DaBaby’s infectious feelgood energy an unexpected compliment to the track’s upbeat disco flair. He doesn’t improve the track—who could have?—but he wasn’t as unwelcome as I had immediately feared, demonstrating how robust the original tune is.
The album also includes the Grammy-nominated bilingual collaboration with Latin superstars, J. Balvin, Tainy and Bad Bunny: “Un Dia (One Day)”. The result is a surprisingly moving track, with Lipa and company singing their self-deceptive assurance that one day the object of their affections will realise their worth and return their affections, but it’s tragically clear that their respective hopes are misplaced. The track’s wheezing reggaeton beat has an airy and wistful dancehall swing, Lipa’s chorus has an unexpected emotional charge and her Spanish-speaking partners in sorrow share the track’s plaintive, hopeful energy in their verses, with their often monotonal deliveries at least adding contrast to Lipa’s more dynamic voice.
The album’s other bilingual collaboration with Angèle is even better. The playful lyrics, using illness as a metaphor for sexual need may sound trite and a little on the nose, particularly in the middle of a global pandemic, but the sultry and elegant production matches the effortless reserves of charisma from the two performers. Lipa’s delicate, fluttering voice contrasts beautifully against Angèle’s gallic nocturnal murmur, which is perfect for the track’s contained house beat.
There are also wholly new tracks to further incentivise listeners, and it’s sadly here where The Moonlight Edition lets its fans down. One of the reasons the original album was so fantastic is how little room is left for error. It was perfectly paced with just eleven tracks, and at thirty-seven minutes long, it was an ideal length. It was substantial enough to feel complete but trim enough to ensure a high standard and leave the listener wanting more. The tracks added to The Moonlight Edition were apparently in the frame when the original album was being put together, but they were cut to keep the album in a proper shape.
Putting them back in at this stage would have been perfectly acceptable had the gap in quality been marginal, and in many respects they are, the songs aren’t badly written, and Lipa’s vocal hasn’t soured. “That Kind of Woman” was already revealed in remix form on Club Future Nostalgia, with The Blessed Madonna and Jacques La Cont giving their spin on the track. However, this original version, a stunning euro-house track, is probably the best of the new songs, with her descending melody on the title phrase a deliciously retro affectation. “If It Ain’t Me” could also have snuck quite neatly into the original album’s tracklist, with the same body-moving bassline and a soaring chorus that those tracks were made from. Lipa’s voice lifts into the clouds on the chorus, though I’m just not a fan of the way she rushes the phrase “in my brain”.
The remaining two tracks though are a sad disappointment; I might even say the first outright misses Dua Lipa has ever given her fans. Atlanta rapper JID was a curious but exciting name to appear on an album like this, but the track he’s on here “Not My Problem” is just an atrocious mess. The underlying song, effectively an anti-hater anthem disguised as another breakup song, is not a bad one, but every element of the production on this song is absolutely wrong: the clattering cacophony behind the chorus, the abrasive backing vocals, the cheapo staccato synths. Given how the producers of Future Nostalgia didn’t get a note wrong for thirty-seven minutes straight, it’s baffling how every single bad idea ended up on this one, unlistenable track. JID’s verse wouldn’t have been enough to save the song in any case, but under twenty seconds of the most disinterested JID has ever sounded is as much as this song deserved.
Meanwhile, “What’s Good” is the first dud single Lipa’s ever dropped. Again, the songwriting and vocal performance are both as good as ever, but the song is saddled with a tacky, shrink-wrapped island vibe and incredibly stiff and cheap-sounding production that’s a million miles away from the sublime glamour and decadence that made the album the masterpiece it is. The awful, wannabe quirky music video is just the nail in the song’s coffin.
Hopefully, the lapse of taste these songs represent is just a momentary aberration and doesn’t signal the end of Lipa’s incredible hot streak. Even if her dance-pop opus is in the rearview, Lipa and her personnel still seized their moment and gave the world a pop album for the ages. The original Future Nostalgia was so far ahead of any of her contemporaries that Lipa wasn’t coming into this expansion with anything left to prove to anyone, so the mixed quality of these few added songs does next to nothing to tarnish her heretofore flawless image.