Dua Lipa review, Radical Optimism: Destined to get bodies on the dancefloor

Unlike many of her pop peers, Dua Lipa doesn’t offer any diaristic glimpses into her private life

Helen Brown
Friday 03 May 2024 06:00 BST
The stakes are still high on Dua Lipa’s ‘Radical Optimism’
The stakes are still high on Dua Lipa’s ‘Radical Optimism’ (Tyrone Lebon)

You have to admire Dua Lipa’s steely sense of purpose. Back in 2017, when she was working on her self-titled debut album, she told her A&R Joe Kentish that she planned to work with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker on her third album. Kentish laughed and told the emerging star to hold her horses. But seven years later, here she is with her third album, Radical Optimism, and here’s Parker, playing and producing on seven of the 11 tracks.

This artistic conviction has been one of the Albanian-British artist’s driving traits from day one. We heard it in the uncompromising regime of her 2017 single “New Rules”, in the brisk edicts of “Don’t Start Now” (2019) and again on “Houdini”, the advance single for this record, on which she throws down the gauntlet to a potential lover with the line: “Prove you’ve got the right to please me.” Urgent, upbeat, demanding and funky, Lipa is a finger-snap personified throughout Radical Optimism.

She takes control from the off. A flurry of Seventies synth-flutes open “End of an Era”; that trademarked rubber-band-bass sends her striding onto a dancefloor to take the initiative. “Hey/ What’s your name?/ Come with me,” she demands. Parker’s dropped in some live percussion – the shimmer of a hi-hat, some bells and a chime – into the mix, contributing a more organic vibe to Lipa’s muscular brand of disco pop.

But she doesn’t need a live band to create jeopardy; she’s always enjoyed the one-two punch of bass and vocals (fuelled by sparkly synths) to speed pulses. On “Houdini”, the melody builds as she urges a potential lover to “catch me before I go”, ramping up interplanetary levels of pressure by stressing that “time is passing like a solar eclipse”. Tick tock, snap to it!

The make-or-break stakes remain high on “Training Season”, where a rattling snare prods the unready into action. “Whatcha Doin’” finds another irresistibly elastic bass line catapulting Lipa into a romantic “collision”, while the club beat of “Illusion” finds her laughing at a player who’s “Tryna’ make me yours for life, takin’ me for a ride.” Her energy and swaggering self-confidence are contagious.

Fittingly for such an international artist, Lipa accessorises certain tracks with a little Eurodisco, skirt-twirling, sambuca-shot fun. There’s a Latin strum and flamenco handclaps on both “Maria” and “French Exit” (the latter a term for leaving without saying goodbye).

This album’s got teeth: cover art for Dua Lipa’s ‘Radical Optimism’
This album’s got teeth: cover art for Dua Lipa’s ‘Radical Optimism’ (Tyrone Lebon)

There’s a dreamy little American slide guitar gilding the lower key on “These Walls”, whose melody is so sweetly peppy that non-Anglophones are unlikely to realise is a breakup song) and some gloriously abandoned ululation on “Falling Forever”, which makes you want to throw her hat into the ring for Eurovision 2025. The beat thunders on at a gallop as Lipa – often more of a pouty/breathy singer – really gives the vocal some welly.

Unlike many of her pop peers, Lipa doesn’t offer any diaristic glimpses into her private life, joking in a recent interview that she is too British to “spill guts”. She certainly sounds like a woman who has little time for that sort of smush. Like an Eighties aerobics instructor, she wants bodies on the dancefloor: feel the burn, sweat it out. Dress in something that allows you to bend and snap along with her, you’ll end up glowing with Lipa’s Radical Optimism.

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