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Charli XCX’s ‘Charli’ shows the highs and lows of being the “Princess of the Party”

Image from Pitchfork
Image from Pitchfork

Charli XCX’s career trajectory since 2015 has been incredibly thrilling to see unfold. Just one year after being a part of two of the biggest songs of the year (Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” and her own “Boom Clap”), she put out her EP Vroom Vroom in a collaboration with experimental producer SOPHIE that still stands as some of the darkest, out of left-field, yet enthralling projects to ever come from an artist as big as her. 

Since then, with the help of the likes of producers SOPHIE and A.G. Cook (co-executive producer of Charli), she has been consistently putting out some of the most forward-thinking, extraterrestrial pop music out there right now. From her collab-heavy mixtapes ‘Number 1 Angel’ and ‘Pop 2’ in 2017 to a spew of singles released in 2018, and even an entire scrapped album, Charli hit the ground running in this new direction. 

A call to prayer for the life of the party

After years of build-up to a new record, Charli feels like a fitting centerpiece to this era of Charli’s career; it sees the return of many former collaborators (i.e. A.G. Cook, CupcakKe, Brooke Candy, Kim Petras, etc.), as well as a fleshed-out, more personal exploration of the themes explored in her music for quite a while. It is all kicked off perfectly with “Next Level Charli,” an opener that sounds like the mission statement of Charli’s career; it’s a propulsive anthem that commands the listener to live life in the fast lane. It’s essentially a call to prayer for the people that are the life of every party.

And if “Next Level Charli” is the thesis of Charli’s artistic vision, “Gone” sees her explore the emotional depths of that vision. It’s a passionate duet with Christine and the Queens that sees Charli deal with the social anxiety of feeling lonely among a crowd with some of the most poetic lyrics to ever grace a Charli XCX record, ”I try real hard, but I’m caught up by my insecurities / Pour me one more, watch the ice melt in my fist.” Both Charli and Christine are bubbling over with emotion across the entire track on top of some of the best production on the entire record; A.G. Cook’s futuristic take is elevated to a gargantuan scope with pummelling ‘80-style gated drums, an explosive chorus, and a glitched-out, electro breakdown that closes the track out spectacularly. 

A mixed bag of electropop bangers

Charli starts off impossibly strong, and the quality tracks keep on coming throughout the record. However, the sonic focus is not quite as consistent as recent Charli XCX projects usually are. Singles like “1999” and “Blame It On Your Love,” while solidly-written pop songs, are super polished and toned down the influences of bubblegum bass and other genres of underground dance music in Charli’s usual material to the point that these tracks would not sound too odd on the radio. “White Mercedes” sounds more like a song Charli (who co-wrote “Señorita”) would write for Camilla Cabello than something she would put on her own record. But then, some of the most abrasive, wacked-out songs Charli has ever released also take residence on Charli

The latter category of tracks plays to Charli’s strengths as a musical entity, and are just overall more engaging pieces of music. “Click” is a track that brings everything there is to love about a Charli XCX banger: a hard-hitting, glitchy beat with an insane instrumental breakdown from A.G. alongside previous collaborating producers umru and Dylan Brady, incredible guest appearances (Kim Petras and especially Tommy Cash bring some of the best guest verses on the entire record), an earworm of a hook from Charli. “Shake It” even sounds like new territory for Charli; it sounds like a strip club anthem was chewed up and spit out as a surreal, distorted beast of a posse cut where nearly every guest brings their A-game. It takes the record into a stunning trio of songs that wrap the record up. “February 2017” is Charli and A.G.’s take on dancehall with a space-y, nocturnal twist, and “2099” is an out-of-this-world spiritual successor to “1999” that would probably be the perfect soundtrack to the sexiest alien abduction ever, as well as just being a perfect way for Charli to close. 

A sluggish middle sandwich-ed between experimental pop perfection

This record’s stunning opening and closing cuts are a double-edged sword, unfortunately. The middle of the record, while containing some of the saddest, personal tracks on the record, also puts most of the slowest, low-key songs back-to-back. Not all of the tracks featured in this stretch are bad; “Silver Cross” sounds like it would be one of the better tracks featured on Number 1 Angel and “White Mercedes,” for as basic as it is instrumentally, is a genuinely moving slow jam with some of the most heartbreaking lyrics on the entire record. “Swallow my feelings, but won’t swallow my pride / You know I’ve got a suit of armor on, you’ll never see me cry / I hate the silence, that’s why the music’s always loud / So many problems, I try to drown ’em out” are especially sad to hear from Charli, whose music has always depicted partying and the club almost like a religious experience.

But even if the thread of emotional tracks make sense together from a narrative sense, it derails the sonic momentum. Putting “I Don’t Wanna Know” and “Official,” two of the slowest, most one-dimensional tracks on the entire record, right next to each other could have been a disaster for Charlias an album experience if “Shake It” weren’t there to shake it up.

Top Tracks:

“Next Level Charli”

“Gone (with Christine and the Queens)”

“Click (ft. Kim Petras and Tommy Cash)”

“Shake It (ft. Big Freedia, CupcakKe, Brooke Candy and Pablo Vittar)”

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Featured Image: The Pitchfork

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