DUA LIPA: FUTURE NOSTALGIA (WARNER)
Verdict: Retro-pop with disco twists
SUFJAN STEVENS & LOWELL BRAMS: Aporia (Asthmatic Kitty)
Verdict: Calming electronic suite
Dua Lipa admits having mixed feelings about releasing new music this week. Her UK tour, which had been due to start in May, has been postponed to 2021 because of the coronavirus, and the singer wasn’t sure whether her fans were in the right frame of mind for her upbeat new record.
Going ahead was the right decision.
Her second album was originally coming out next Friday, but Future Nostalgia has now been brought forward to today after an online leak, and it offers some timely cheer.
Lipa, 24, concedes that she will have to be more inventive than usual in promoting it, but she is already embracing that challenge by taking to Instagram Live and chatting to her fans.
Kosovo Albanian popstar Dua Lipa’s new album, Future Nostalgia, is out early due to a leak
She has also risen purposefully to the task of following up a selftitled debut that was successful beyond her wildest dreams.
Born in London to Kosovo Albanian parents, she broke through with the chart-topping 2017 empowerment anthem New Rules and went on to win three Brits and two Grammys.
There is nothing too highfalutin here. Lipa says she was motivated by revisiting old songs by the American hip-hop duo OutKast and ska-pop band No Doubt, acts who were among her childhood favourites, and wanted a nostalgic feeling with some modern trimmings — hence the album title.
Many of these songs would slip comfortably into a feelgood playlist for those now exercising alone at home.
The title track, swaying between rap and disco, sets the tone by picking up thematically from New Rules, playfully casting Lipa as a ‘female Alpha’ who is firmly in charge: ‘I can’t build you up if you ain’t tough enough, I can’t teach a man how to wear his pants,’ she declares.
There are also tracks about getting frisky with your lover (Physical and Pretty Please), some pulsating, bass-driven disco (Don’t Start Now) and a song about escaping to the moon and Mars (Levitating).
Lipa co-writes everything, but she leans heavily on a crack team of helping hands. Among her collaborators are Madonna and Killers producer Stuart Price, and jazz pianist and arranger Jeff Bhasker.
Her co-writers include Chelcee Grimes and Julia Michaels. Lipa abandons her buoyant approach only occasionally.
Break My Heart frames a rare moment of vulnerability and doubt as she wonders whether she is ‘falling in love with the one that could break my heart’.
It also recycles the lean, funky guitar motif from INXS’s Need You Tonight. On Boys Will Be Boys, a rare ballad, she addresses the everyday sexual harassment she experienced as a West London teen.
‘If you’re offended by this song, you’re clearly doing something wrong,’ she sings. With Drew Jurecka’s chamber strings and backing vocals by an Epsom arts choir, the song is distinctive enough to add nuance to an album that otherwise remains resolutely in the fast lane.
Maybe there’ll be greater variety next time.
For now, Lipa has tackled her difficult second album, one of 2020’s most eagerly awaited pop releases, with confidence and swagger.
Here come a stream of stars
John Legend and wife Chrissy Teigen as they appeared on John’s live music stream
Pop’s enthusiasm for live-streaming has gathered pace since Chris Martin and John Legend put new music online to entertain the self-isolating.
Legend’s impromptu pianorenditions of Stay With You and All Of Me, accompanied by his wife Chrissy Teigen (left), are the benchmark.
Like posts from Niall Horan, Ziggy Marley and Bastille, his informal performance can be seen at #togetherathome on YouTube. Madonna took to Twitter to sing her 1990 hit Vogue while holding a hairbrush, and posted a bizarre rant about coronavirus from her bathtub.
More fun was Kate Nash’s tin whistle cover of Metallica’s Enter Sandman. The wittiest videos came from Liam Gallagher and Neil Diamond.
Gallagher delivered versions of Oasis’s Soap-ersonic and Wonder-wash over his kitchen sink on Twitter, while Diamond rewrote Sweet Caroline to include lines about hand-washing and social distancing.
The cover artwork for Sufjan Stevens’ and Lowell Brams’ new album Aporia
Sufjan Stevens is also keen to put his latest album, Aporia, into a sober perspective. ‘This record is hardly the most important thing in your world right now,’ he says.
But he, too, has brought forward the release of this largely instrumental affair, made with his stepfather Lowell Brams.
Aporia was originally due out today, but was made available across all formats last Tuesday to assist hard-pressed record shops with mail-order deliveries of physical copies.
Sufjan and Lowell are also donating 50 per cent of all proceeds to food-focused coronavirus charities.
They are an intriguing pair. Stevens is the maverick Detroit folk singer who once set out to make an LP for each of America’s 50 states (he gave up after Michigan and Illinois), while Brams was married to his late mother Carrie, a relationship that inspired Stevens’ heartbreaking but brilliant 2015 album Carrie & Lowell.
Aporia is another about-turn. Edited down from a decade’s worth of New Age synth jams, its 21 tracks sound like the soundtrack to an imaginary sci-fi film, with nods to Kraftwerk, Mike Oldfield and Vangelis.
‘With jamming, 90 per cent is horrible,’ admits Stevens.
‘But, if you’re lucky, 10 per cent is magic.’ Some of the music here feels slight, with several numbers lasting little more than 30 seconds.
But there are tightly crafted moments of magic, too, with Shins bassist Yuuki Matthews and The National’s touring drummer James McAlister adding texture to a calming musical suite.