Dua Lipa, Houdini review: Pop star’s tendon-twanging, hit-making formula remains unchanged

Dua Lipa releases single ‘Houdini’ on 9 November with an album expected to follow next year  (Supplied by label)
Dua Lipa releases single ‘Houdini’ on 9 November with an album expected to follow next year (Supplied by label)

Rubber band bass line? Check! Shimmery spandex retro-synths? Check! Hokey lyrics about the magic of dancefloor romance? Check! Dua Lipa fans can relax – she may have dumped her management, but new single “Houdini” shows the 28-year-old pop star’s tendon-twanging formula remains unchanged.

The track comes bubbling up from a cauldron of distortion, before Dua Lipa takes a breath, nods a brief “OK” and that elastic bass line snaps to attention. Its stomp and phrasing half-conjures the ghost of The Jackson’s 1980 hit, “Can you Feel It?”.  Aptly titled, the song finds the singer in the role of a romantic escapologist (ie easily able to extricate herself from entanglements), throwing down the gauntlet to her latest mark. “Catch me ‘fore I go… Maybe you could be the one to make me stay?”

Disco jeopardy comes crackling through the synth lines, pulsing, wriggling and fizzing against one another, wearing the sparks of their raw electricity on their sleeves. Two thirds of the way in, the melodramatic chords come splashing, ABBA-esque, down the octave – before a cool, kazoo-esque effect (think Seventies Stevie Wonder) arrives towards the end to send your speakers vibrating.

There’s some daftness in the lyrics, too. “Time is passing like a solar eclipse,” warns the singer, like the heroine in a scientifically-ropey Hollywood blockbuster. What does she mean by this? That there’s only a moment of darkness for her lover to snare her? The average solar eclipse takes hours and, at its peak, offers around seven minutes of total black-out. That’s twice the length of this song. But pop is no place for pedantry – especially not when it comes to a singer whose lockdown hit, “Levitating”, saw her laughing in the face of gravity.

Vocally, Dua Lipa is cool and punchy. She doesn’t have the world’s most distinctive voice but she emits a powerful, slightly pouty, challenge as she demands: “Prove you’ve got the right to please me.” It’s an attitude that dancers are going to love channelling under the mirror balls: sexy, mysterious, melodramatic. Like the magician she’s channelling, Dua Lipa’s pulled off yet another enjoyably thrilling trick.

‘Houdini’ is out now via Warner Records