A pop diva is poorer without her remixes. Madonna’s dance remixes span Shep Pettibone’s kinetic “Express Yourself” rework to Stuart Price’s revitalizing overhaul of her discography on ’00s tours. Whitney Houston’s club versions brought extra oomph to a joyous NYC Pride performance in 1999. (“If your music’s banging in the clubs, you’re doing okay,” Houston noted.) And the hip-hop and dance remixes of Mariah Carey, pop’s queen of the remix, lower drawbridges between genres and become playgrounds for innovation.
Not all of these icons descended from the pop pantheon to party with the people. But Dua Lipa, who made True Blue for the 2020s with this year’s Future Nostalgia, is a raver. At last year’s Glastonbury festival, she wore sunglasses, a red wig, and adopted the alter-ego “Valentina Vicious” so that she could party in peace. Lipa met The Blessed Madonna that weekend, and linked up with the Kentucky-born producer earlier this year to create Club Future Nostalgia, a fun but overstuffed mix that hopscotches between piano house, Baltimore club, and the kind of dance remixes that power Chelsea gay bars like so many cheap well drinks. A stacked lineup includes Masters at Work, Mr. Fingers, Mark Ronson, Yaeji, and Moodymann, with seamless transitions from The Blessed Madonna. But heavy-handed editing can make Club Future Nostalgia feel oddly uneven.
Yaeji whittles and rebuilds “Don’t Start Now” into bouncy minimal disco, chopping her own murmured vocals into the beat like ASMR with somewhere to be. The previously unreleased “Love Is Religion,” remixed by The Blessed Madonna, sounds like a Lip Sync for Your Life song from RuPaul’s Drag Race in the best way. Mr. Fingers’ skeletal version of “Hallucinate” lifts just “I’ma love you like a fool/Breathe you in till I hallucinate” from Lipa’s original. In his edit, “fool” sounds like “fucker,” a soundtrack for any darkroom sex god to lay out their agenda to a willing partner. But the Mr. Fingers track is abbreviated—The Blessed Madonna adds a superfluous sample of Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl,” which takes up nearly a third of its runtime. Similarly, Jacques Lu Cont’s Balearic rework of the previously-unreleased “That Kind of Woman” is sublime, but getting only three minutes of it feels like a tease; Lu Cont, aka Stuart Price, can make every second of a seven-minute remix feel essential.
DJ drops from Lipa punctuate the record, a trick Vince Staples also used on his 2018 album FM!, which was styled as a radio show. Club Future Nostalgia feels less like London pirate radio than a show from one of BBC Radio 1’s most inquisitive DJs. That accessibility isn’t a bad thing. Jayda G’s amped-up version of “Cool” is exactly what you want to hear in a warehouse at 3 AM, football whistles and all, and Horse Meat Disco’s euphoric “Love Again” seems to be made for the moment when the sun starts to peek through a club’s shutters. But Club Future Nostalgia’s starriest moments are some of its weakest. Mark Ronson’s depressingly loungey remix of “Physical,” with a disappointing verse from Stefani, manages to make one of the year’s most vivid pop songs feel like background music. And the irresistible “Levitating” is deflated by phoned-in features from Madonna and Missy Elliott, who were more charismatic when they teamed up for a Gap commercial.
Great DJ sets are built around tension and release, but whipping through 15 producers in 50 minutes, Club Future Nostalgia struggles to build the anticipation to earn a payoff. The most dazzling exception comes at the end of the album: Moodymann’s remix of “Break My Heart” is by far the best track. Built around a bass lick, cowbells, and weird ambiance—clinking bottles, a menacing laugh—it feels terrifying and beautiful. A more left-field approach to Lipa’s music—as seen elsewhere, on Hyperdub artist Loraine James’ dark experimental rework of “Don’t Start Now,” and Erika de Casier’s neo-noir take on “Physical”—would have enriched the mix. As it is, Club Future Nostalgia is a bit like a round of exquisite corpse: fun while it lasts, but somehow less than the sum of its parts.
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