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Dua Lipa, ‘Radical Optimism’ review: There’s nothing radical to be found here

Moments of greatness can be found on the pop giant's latest album, but it's hard to shake the sense that she is capable of so much better.

3.0 rating

By Nick Reilly

Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa (Picture: Tyrone Lebon)

When Dua Lipa graced the cover of this very magazine earlier this year, the British pop giant explained that her third album would be an all-out celebration of youth in all its complicated glory.

“This record feels a bit more raw,” she explained.

“I want to capture the essence of youth and freedom and having fun and just letting things happen, whether that’s good or bad. You can’t change it. You just have to roll with the punches of whatever’s happening in your life.”

This mantra seemingly went further when she unveiled the record title Radical Optimism – taken from an anthropology term coined during the pandemic that essentially posited the importance of refusing to give up in the darkest of scenarios.

True to Lipa’s word, her third record sees pop positivity – and the importance of dancing through the darkness – become the order of the day.

“The sweetest pleasure, I feel like we’re gonna be together,” she practically beams on the sun-soaked, funk-driven opener ‘End Of An Era’.

Similarly, the psych-drenched ‘Houdini’ – already one of Lipa’s biggest hits as the record’s lead single, packs even more power when it’s followed by the one-two punch of ‘Training Season’ – both of which proudly wear the sonic DNA of Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker.

Parker’s influence can also be clearly felt on the steady, slow-burning groove of ‘Whatcha Doing’ which, at times, feels like a blissed-out companion piece to Lipa’s previous mega hit ‘Levitating’.

And even if no track comes close to hitting the highs of ‘Houdini’, there’s still greatness to be found here too.

‘These Walls’ is an endearing break-up banger, while ‘Illusion” is a big, bold dance track that will no doubt soundtrack a sea of champagne-soaked pool parties this summer – even if those beats cover up all manner of sins in the track’s ham-fisted lyrics.  

Ooh, what you doin’? /Don’t know who you think that you’re confusing,” comes Lipa’s beat-driven chorus.

Similarly, the overblown production of ‘Falling Forever’ and its central cry of “How loooong” allows us to imagine what it might sound like it Lipa ever fancied gunning for Eurovision glory. Sadly, it feels like this effort would probably land somewhere on the right side of that competition’s leader board.

Another misfire is ‘Anything For Love’, which aims for earnestness and relatability by including raw audio of the singer’s pre-take conversations, before becoming a ballad that, in turn, makes way for an airy pop groove. It’s every bit as convoluted as that proposition sounds.

This, in turn, feels like a reflection of one of the album’s key problems. The aforementioned essence of youth and pop-fuelled fun is undeniably there, but you can’t help feeling that it is, at times, a collection of overstuffed ideas held together by a handful of truly great singles. Bizarrely, there’s also no sign of the Oasis or Britpop vibes that Lipa had teased either.

Those songs show that Lipa is still capable of delivering all-out bangers, but it’s ultimately hard to shake the nagging feeling that she’s capable of doing so much better. A truly optimistic view of this album, you sense, would be a radical thing to find.