In the five years that have passed since her last studio album Sucker, Charli XCX has been hard at work releasing an EP, two mixtapes, and appearing as a featured artist on multiple singles. Her long awaited third LP Charli contains 15 tracks of her usual brand of avant-garde electropop.
From the first track, “Next Level Charli,” she invites fans to enjoy the album and “turn the volume up” wherever they may be – at the party, in your bedroom, or, referencing her fan-favorite track “Vroom Vroom,” even in your Prius. Based on the first song, it’s easy to assume Charli will just be another synth-heavy, nightclub ready dance record. As the album continues, however, listeners will soon discover a vulnerable, honest side to Charli’s songwriting.
The most candid moment on Charli is “Thoughts,” a track that is exactly what the title implies. She goes through the intrusive thoughts that haunt her, pondering the legitimacy of her friendships, the problems with her significant other, and the toll that partying and her career have taken on her life. The straightforward lyrics and the simplicity of the instrumentals emphasize the honesty of the track, and listeners discover a side of Charli that is not afraid to ask herself: “Did I f*** it up?”
Charli builds upon the theme of self-reflection with the help from a wide range of featured artists, including Haim, Sky Ferreira, Troye Sivan, and more. “Gone,” which features Christine and the Queens, dives into Charli’s insecurities surrounding the people in her life, as her and Christine both confess “I feel so unstable, f***ing hate these people.” In both “Blame It On Your Love” featuring Lizzo and “February 2017” featuring Clairo and Yaeji, Charli holds herself accountable for her relationship issues and apologizes for the pain she has caused. Despite the emotional lyrics, Charli’s classic synth instrumentals help mask the heavy subject matter and convert the songs from ballads to bangers.
Those familiar with Charli’s music will likely enjoy the return of many of her previous collaborators who unite to create . “Shake It” reunites drag queen Pabllo Vittar with rappers CupcakKe and Brooke Candy, who all contributed to the track “I Got It” from Charli’s mixtape Pop 2. To switch things up, Charli introduces rapper Big Freedia to the mix. Another Pop 2 contributor, Kim Petras, returns for a fast paced verse on “Click” along with Estonian rapper Tommy Cash. The stellar lineup on these two songs are met with loud, distorted beats designed to add an abstract element to the songs. While I initially enjoyed the experimentation, after awhile I found the noise a bit off-putting.
The album takes some risks, but they demonstrate Charli’s artistic integrity. She’s unafraid to combine experimental instrumentals and a diverse group of contributors with her newfound lyrical sincerity. Charli is able to take the foundational aspects of pop music – upbeat songs and catchy choruses – and still manage to push the boundaries and stand out as one of the most innovative pop albums of the year.
Recommended Tracks: Gone, 1999, Click, February 2017
Album Rating: 4.5/5
Review By: Hayley Slusser