Album Reviews

Dua Lipa – Radical Optimism

(Warner) UK release date: 3 May 2024


The British Albanian singer becomes more nuanced and expressive as she alternates pop convention with eccentricity

Dua Lipa - Radical Optimism When Dua Lipa’s second album was released in 2020 it was generally recognised as a triumph: a couple of very well-received house collaborations guided the way beforehand, and hits like Physical and Levitating (with or without DaBaby) lit up the charts all through the Covid-19 pandemic. Now the mezzo-soprano songstress is faced with a dilemma, as although the musical style of Future Nostalgia is still viable – see Espresso as well as yes, and? – at this point Dua must expand her repertoire to avoid being typecast. This is where PC Music alumnus Danny L Harle and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker come in, working together on most of Radical Optimism’s 11 tracks and alternating pop convention with eccentricity.

Lead single Houdini keeps the club-friendly BPM but adds flavours of italo disco and an enjoyable sense of drama, particularly with the descending synth solo that dominates the latter third of the track. Illusion, meanwhile, is a smooth French house cut about staying one step ahead of suitors featuring copious melisma on the titular word (“I already know your type / telling me the things I like / trying to make me yours for life / taking me for a ride / I already know your type / think you play your cards right / don’t you know I could do this dance all night?”)

Deeper in the tracklist more variety emerges, featuring emotions and sounds that most listeners will have never heard from Dua. These Walls tells the tale of a relationship that needs to end over a sturdy electric bass part and mournful lead guitar – in a pop world increasingly surrounded by Americana this song feels like a throwback to 2000s rock radio, with its jangly arrangement and sweet melancholy. Appropriately for this time of year Falling Forever has a Eurovision flavour to it, as galloping drums accompany chords that switch between uneasy and anthemic, courtesy of familiar collaborators Ian Fitzpatrick and Emily Warren.

While Dua’s bread and butter is still up-tempo 4×4 bops, for one brief slice of Radical Optimism she flirts with an even greater departure. Anything For Love opens with gentle ballad-esque piano in freetime and lyrics concerning commitment and devotion (“I’m not interested / in a heart that doesn’t beat for me / I want a mind that meets me equally / when it’s hard it won’t evеr feel like it’s too much / remember when we used to do anything for love?”). The pace quickens near the end of this section and as if a switch is flicked, the word “love” activates a minimal, syncopated groove that sees out the rest of the track. Both parts work surprisingly well together, the same hook sliding nicely into place amongst the beats and synths, thus the shortest song on the record ends up being one of the best.

Praised though it was Future Nostalgia actually ended with two decidedly mediocre tracks, a fate which this album avoids. Maria is a spritely number about being positively influenced by past relationships, replete with flute and 303 parts, even if the line “deepest effect always comes from a cause” is banal. Happy For You explores blown-out breakbeats and sonorous sub-bass to euphoric effect, and as the song’s swooning synths fade out and are replaced by ambient chirps, one wonders whether Madonna’s late-’90s experimentation was an intentional reference point.

It’s possible that the commercial reaction to Radical Optimism reflects Dua as a smaller artist than she was five years ago, but with this album she also becomes more nuanced and expressive, better placed for longterm appeal, which is worth celebrating in its own right.


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