Charli XCX is a dance-pop singer/songwriter from Cambridge, England. Her first LP in 2013, True Romance was relatively well received by critics, though it found little commercial success. Nevertheless, she was able to try her hand at a second release on 2014’s Sucker, her first LP to enter the billboard charts. The album spawned two hit singles in the platinum “Break the Rules,” and the triple platinum smash hit, “Boom Clap.” Quickly, Charli found herself with significant clout as a rising star in the dance-pop genre with a couple of hits under her belt and a fair amount of critical respect to boot. Now, she’s back with her third LP, and her first release in five years, Charli.
Easily the largest improvement for Charli comes in her vocal. This is obvious from the opener, “Next Level Charli,” as well as in later cuts like “White Mercedes,” where stays in her upper register and belts out one impressive hook after another. This vocal skill was present on earlier works, but the sound of this LP is far more demanding, and so her improvements shine brightly.
This is helped by the simply fantastic melody writing across the entire album. Tracks like “Gone,” or “Official,” are some of the most catchy pop songs of the year thanks to dynamic hooks and genuinely interesting vocal lines. Even on the handful of tracks with structural or lyrical issues, these are easily ignored in favor of the singable melodies.
There are also more than a few strong features. Fellow dance pop artist, Yaeji, sings an intriguing, almost childish closing verse in Korean on “February 2017,” Troye Sivan pops up twice on the tracklist, both times showcasing great chemistry with Charli. None stand out quite as powerfully, though, as Lizzo’s powerful and hilarious verse on “Blame It on Your Love,” which features lines like “my body like a swisher just roll it,” and “I’m tryna catch millions, I ain’t tryna catch feelings,” just to mention a few.
Beyond this, the instrumentation is quite strong. Much of this has to do with unique choices in percussion as in “1999,” which ranges from classic trap snares to toned basses and creative natural sounds and samples. On the other hand, cuts like “Click,” feature active melodic instrumentation, mostly synths, which are daringly abrasive and distorted along with surprising samples from what sounds like 80’s video games. The instrumentation, on the whole, is lush, and challenging in a way that I certainly didn’t expect.
This is helmed by a grand, hands on production style which really brings the entire album together. This style is present from the rich mixes on cuts like “Warm,” to the overwhelming synths on “Thoughts,” which are reminiscent of vintage sci-fi soundtracks, or the powerful reverb and vocal effects on “I Don’t Wanna Know.” Each and every track is extremely well mixed and has an entirely unique, yet each bare the stamp of the album’s production style.
All of these elements come to a head near the end of the LP with some of the strongest, most experimental tracks. “2099,” is a great closer which sees the return of Troye Sivan and a handful of interesting instrumental choices. The most daring track on the album, however, is “Shake It,” which features howling synths, mind-bending vocal effects, and excellent stereo image. It’s these cuts which impress me the most on this album as the effort to add experimental flair to a traditional pop album is not only much appreciated, but extremely well executed.
As much as I love moments on this album, however, it does have a few weak points. Perhaps the biggest sin comes in the extremely repetitive lyrics and melodies on tracks like “Cross You Out,” and “Silver Cross.” Additionally, the lyrics leave a bit to be desired, touching quite a bit on similar subject matter and lacking in any interesting rhyme schemes or storytelling.
All together, though, Charli is an impressive record. With the five year gap between releases, Charli seems to have matured significantly, now ready to join the growing stable of creative artists who are quickly pushing pop music to its most intriguing point in decades.
Charli is a massive step forward for Charli XCX and yet another great record in modern pop music.