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Dua Lipa's 'Radical Optimism': Creamy Melodies, Mechanised 80's & French Disco

Dua Lipa album cover Radical Optimism


Radical Optimism (Warner)


SONGS TO SING WITH. Songs to dance to. Songs to look up and grin at the sky and say I don’t care, none of this is going to dampen me. Songs to walk out of your door feeling like you can smack down any nasty little scrote who gets in your face because, well, because you can.

Howsabout a batch of those to kick off (southern) winter or (northern) summer? Like the ping-ponging hook, sweet backing vocals and crisp snap of Training Season, the gliding rhythm-meets-popping-bass of the luscious End Of An Era, or the busy French disco of Illusion? Maybe you’re up for the old school creamy melody of These Walls, the mechanised ‘80s dance-around of Houdini or the yacht rock shuffle-meets-any-child-of-Destiny of French Exit. Maybe you just want some rolling in the glistening deep Whatcha Doing?

As Jessie Ware said recently, that feels good. And, just like Ms Ware’s most recent offerings, Radical Optimism does feel good. Really good. A record of pop songs that lift and separate you from regular mire, that work a rich seam of strutting dance that leads by example, and that make it hard to maintain a grump.

And by working a rich seam I mean every one of the first seven songs has, with slight variations up and down, pretty much the same tempo and tone that project you – and don’t pretend it wouldn’t be you – walking into a club with hips first, shoulders last, and trailing a scent like you could own every single person in there if you deign to notice them. Arrogance? Nah, just confidence and at ease.

The confidence and ease come as the underpinnings of the album’s concept:  resisting 2024’s overhanging gloom with something quite radical, optimism. Which is a nice idea, even though it exists more in theory, or press release, than realisation. That’s not because of lack of effort or contradiction, more that you don’t want to delve too deeply into what is being said. Lipa has a knack for sharp lines but sustained concepts or narratives is not her thing and lyrically the topics are variations of let’s see if this can happen, let’s get it on, let’s turn it off, and well, that didn’t work did it but thanks anyway.

That said, there is a nice idea through French Exit, or what the non-Europe-adjacent might call ghosting,or (allegedly) smoke bombing. In this case Lipa almost convinces herself that “It’s not a broken heart if I don’t break it/Goodbye doesn’t hurt if I don’t say it”, so rather than wait for the lights to come on and words to be spoken, she’s slipping outta here and hoping the message gets through. (And if it doesn’t? Ah well, thanks anyway.)

The album tails off noticeably, its last four tracks blending into modern generality, almost boxticking with what Kevin Rudd might call programmatic specificity – and whatever else we differ on, I’m sure we all agree that no one should have the Ruddster mentioned in a review of their album.

It wouldn’t be fair to say writers and producers alongside Lipa, like Kevin “Australia’s own” Parker, Danny L Harle, Caroline Ailin and Andrew Wyatt, having hit the mark earlier, are phoning it in; more accurate would be to say they cut-and-pasted it in.

There’s the Big Vocal Pop of Falling Forever (lungbusting appeal to the back of the arena and the merch stand) and the Breezy Cocktail Bit of Maria (a lightly Caribbean rhythm, acoustic guitar and flute blend that needs a chorus more vivid than this), the soundtrack you suspect somewhere in the world for a bunch of stunted publishers and label accountants toasting their Christmas bonus.

 And while Anything For Love, partially recovers ground with its surprisingly mild Shy Pop shades that feels a minute too short for real impact, the Sia Wasn’t Available But This Will Do closer, Happy For You (all but the kitchen sink melange of electronics, solid drums, squelchy woodwind-like, with vocals reaching hard but not actually touching) is an anonymous track that’s perfectly adequate in this company, but when put up against the pleasures of the first part of the album feels like an anonymous dud.

But in the spirit of radical optimism, and a return to the age of frontloading your album with already released singles, why worry about the tail when the body of this album is quite superb?

Have pop, will enjoy.


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