Patrick talks us through Charli XCX’s third studio album, Charli - in his opinion, it promised innovative production, big features and self-reflective topics, and it largely delivers.
Charli XCX has been good at experimenting with the limits of ‘pop’ music since her massively successful album Sucker. In fact, it’s hard to label her sound: is it synth-pop? Punk-pop? Dance-pop? Is it even pop? And Charli has only made it harder.
Next Level Charli is the album’s opening track – featuring fast vocals from Charli, the track maintains the sound we’re used to from the synth-heavy, auto-tuned pop artists. It seems to function as a shift from Charli’s last record, Pop 2, as it’s dedicated to her fans to thank them.
Gone (feat. Christine and the Queens), the third released single from the album, expresses struggles of isolation and anxiety. Lyrics such as ‘I feel so unstable, fucking hate these people’ and ‘I try real hard, but I’m caught up by my insecurities’ really demonstrate the shift in maturity that Charli has grasped in this record, particularly in comparison to some of her biggest hits Boys and Break The Rules. The track also sounds unstable, with bassy hits being cut off quickly and big empty pauses to match its theme of isolation.
'This track perhaps shows off Charli’s stellar production best – despite having a lot going on, everything works without overpowering or hiding anything'.
Cross You Out (feat. Sky Ferreira) is a powerful ballad about being able to cut people out of your life and move on. The track stacks the sturdy but vulnerable voices of Charli and Ferreira atop strong, bassy synths, setting up for an incredibly memorable track – a natural single. 1999 (feat. Troye Sivan) is one of the most standard pop tracks on the album, mixing a dance bassline with a bouncy track on the keys. The song is light and fun, which is somewhat of a relief after the heavier, more reflective songs which came previously and could definitely end up as the most popular track of the album.
Click (feat. Kim Petras and Tommy Cash) is a hefty track, opening with and maintaining bassy, gothic synths with soft, hollow clicks and various other onomatopoeic sounds. This track perhaps shows off Charli’s stellar production best – despite having a lot going on, everything works without overpowering or hiding anything (even in the outro, which features big, distorted noises reminiscent of gun shots). Tommy Cash’s verse, however, feels like a detriment to the song; it’s out of place, comic and unnecessary, much like Jay Parks’ in Unlock It. Hopefully, the next Petras/Charli collaboration will avoid the same again.
Warm (feat. HAIM) is a smooth, well, warm track – it almost feels like you’re listening to an acoustic song, despite Charli’s auto-tuned vocals. HAIM’s feature is strong and the vocals really pair well with the feeling of the song and its floral vibe; overall, one of my favourites from the album. Thoughts is another ballad which, again, allows Charli to open herself up and just sing. The song feels like a stream of consciousness as the frustration within the lyrics (‘Fucked up, I just wanna break glass/Phone calls, I just wanna talk back’) contrasts with the detached tone within Charli’s voice and the soft, yet alarm-like, synths.
Blame It On Your Love (feat. Lizzo) is the poppiest track of the album, more reminiscent in sound to Charli’s previous work than this album. The track is, in fact, a remix (or original, depending on what you believe) of Track 10, the album closer of Pop 2. Unfortunately, Blame It On Your Love fits less well within Charli than Track 10 would have; the former swaps the reflective sound of the latter for a party sound, keeping it upbeat and fun on a song which is largely about being self-destructive in a relationship. As a single, it works. On the album, not so much.
White Mercedes is the ninth song on the album and one of the strongest. The song ditches experimentation for romance, emphasising Charli’s passionate voice. The heavy synths and bass lines that were prominent in the first half of the album have been toned down, making for easy and comfortable listening; something you may not expect (or want) from Charli XCX. Silver Cross feels like a second part to White Mercedes but falls flatter. There are areas of interest such as the transition between chorus and verse, where the song shifts to a sci-fi sound, but the song is largely quite predictable. Additionally, unlike White Mercedes, Charli’s vocals aren’t noteworthy and the lyrics are rather plain and shallow. The song is catchy, but not up to par with a lot of the album.
I Don’t Wanna Know is a very 80’s synth-ballad which, much like the past two songs, slows down the record and gives Charli a medium for self-reflection. The song succeeds where Silver Cross fails in that the passion is there and there is plenty of space on the track for Charli’s vocals to shine through – vocals which are emphasised with her auto-tune as usual, but also with heavy reverb which mixes her voice in among the synths.
'The heavy synths and bass lines that were prominent in the first half of the album have been toned down, making for easy and comfortable listening; something you may not expect (or want) from Charli XCX'.
Official is now the fourth track in a row to just feature Charli and, again, it’s a ballad. However, Official stands out from those previous in both sound and lyric; it’s a vulnerable song about truly falling in love with someone close, but it’s warm and soft – the lines ‘But the way that you kissed me/These are the things that could make us official’ really stand out at the end of the chorus. The song begins as repetitive and abrupt but slowly becomes and more ethereal and glittery. It knows exactly when to build up and when to break down, leaving Charli accompanied and abandoned by her backing track to really draw focus on what and how she is singing.
Shake It (feat. Big Freedia, CupcakKe, Brooke Candy, Pabllo Vittar) is probably my least favourite track on the album; it’s very messy, in part due to the army of features and in part due to a lack of cohesion between verses. The song is experimental, and there are parts of the song which I do enjoy, but it feels more like a demo of an art project than a well-produced Charli XCX track.
February 2017 (feat. Clairo, Yaeji) is the shortest track on the album, at only 2:33. It’s a passionate apology, again showing the vulnerability that seems very characteristic of this album as a whole. The song itself is good but doesn’t show too much innovation or too many areas of distinction.
'It feels more like a demo of an art project than a well-produced Charli XCX track'.
2099 is the closing track of the album and also features Troye Sivan, yet falls much flatter than its counterpart. The track’s concept is interesting – a spacey, futuristic sound paired with lyrics to suggest Charli as the future of pop music. Sadly, it doesn’t live up to the promise. The track does feature some vaguely sci-fi noises and gives some semblance of futurism, but with lyrics such as ‘I’m Pluto, Neptune/pull up, roll up, future, future’, it feels like Charli is more telling us that she is the future rather than showing us. A shame to end on a duller note but a great album, nevertheless.