The concept of the remix album dates back to the 1980s, when record companies would slap together several “dance,” “club,” “house,” “street” or “funky fresh” remixes into full-length albums, creating a relatively low-overhead addition to the catalogs — and balance sheets — of artists ranging from Madonna and David Bowie to the Human League and Milli Vanilli. Most of them were lame; some were good; a small handful, like the remixes on Madonna’s “Immaculate Collection,” were great. In the ‘90s, the concept morphed its way into the mixtape world via collections like J. Period’s “Best of Mary J. Blige,” which essentially made a DJ set out of her greatest hits (and in the process absolutely crushed her official greatest-hits collection).
Dua Lipa’s long-anticipated sophomore album, “Future Nostalgia,” dropped on March 27 into a world very different from the one she or any of us had anticipated — and one that is psychologically light years away from the dancefloor-targeted pop that makes up the bulk of the album. Despite the singer’s stated misgivings about promoting an album at such a time, “Future Nostalgia” has garnered rave reviews and was the first — and many say the best — in a series of excellent disco-centric albums to arrive this year, which includes Lady Gaga’s “Chromatica,” Jessie Ware’s “What’s Your Pleasure?” and Kylie Minogue’s forthcoming, unambiguously titled “Disco.”
And while its source album is plenty danceable, “Club Future Nostalgia” merges the concepts of the above-described remix albums and mixtapes and gets it exactly right. The original album’s tracks (along with a couple of new and old songs) have been handed over to a team of sonic surgeons that includes Mark Ronson, Masters at Work, Jacques Lu Cont, Paul Woolford, Joe Goddard, the Blessed Madonna (not to be confused with, you know, that Madonna), Yaeji, Moodymann and more — along with guest appearances from Missy Elliott, Gwen Stefani, Blackpink and, yes, that Madonna.
A remix is designed to recontextualize a song, and a dance remix is often intended to shift the focus from the brain to the booty, cherry-picking the vocals and the best elements and dropping them over a revamped backing and beat; some remixes dispense with the original music altogether. While none of the songs here are completely overhauled, the remixers have recast them tastefully without losing the essence, switching up the music, the moods and tempos, dropping in the guest appearances (unfortunately, Madonna and Missy Elliott are among the album’s few low points), brief shout-outs from the DJs, and even snippets of other songs, ranging from Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back” to Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance” and Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl.”
Choosing the best tracks is difficult because nearly all of them are hot, but highlights include old-school titans Masters at Work’s bleep-house take on “Pretty Please,” Blessed Madonna’s ‘80s-meets-gospel revamp of “Love Is Religion,” Zach Witness’ ADD-addled remix of “Boys Will Be Boys” (which incorporates a slice of the James Brown sample from Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s 1988 smash “It Takes Two”) and the upgrade of “Kiss and Make Up” (ditto the bass from Herb Alpert’s “Rise”).
It’s more free and fun than the original “Future Nostalgia” — which was free and fun to begin with — because it’s more diverse and much less serious, cruising by smoothly over the course of an over-too-fast hour or so, with a fluidity and seamlessness that is all the more remarkable considering the number of cooks in its kitchen. Want a great soundtrack for your end-of-summer lockdown party? Look no further — “Club Future Nostalgia” is the rare remix album that arguably improves on the original.
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