ALBUM REVIEW: Charli XCX ascends from the underground on ‘Charli’

On Charli XCX’s third studio album, the heralded future of pop proves that the future is, in fact, now. 

Curated alongside PC Music’s A.G. Cook, the dynamic duo behind Charli XCX’s Number 1 Angel and Pop 2 mixtapes, Charli sees the forward-thinking pair ready an assault on mainstream pop music.

Ever since releasing Sucker in 2015 and flipping off the subsequent tour due to a lack of creativity, XCX ditched the bubblegum pop and record label misdirection to dive underground. That’s where the pop star began re-writing what it meant to be a 21st-century pop star, discovered an unwavering new fan base and rallied up likeminded creators such as Cook, Dorian Electra, Kim Petras, Tommy Cash, ALMA and SOPHIE.

Many of those names feature on Charli. Petras and Cash are on the biting ‘Click’ whose metallic clanking is punctuated by maybe the best Kim Petras “woo ah!” you’ve ever heard. Moments of madness that just shouldn’t work, but do, are plentiful. ‘Shake It’ is the mad sister to standout Pop 2 track ‘I Got It’ and boasts a roll call of Big Freeida, Cupcakke, Brooke Candy and Pabllo Vittar who power its club-ready production into a speaker-breaking four minute rattle. Elsewhere, Troye Sivan is called upon for latest single ‘2099‘ whose futuristic charisma shows XCX at her most confident.

‘2099’ is the mutated spin-off of chart hit ‘1999’, which also makes the cut on Charli. It’s that balance between sonic madness and universally pleasing pop that XCX strikes so seamlessly this time around. Christine and the Queens featured ‘Gone‘ is the record’s standout moment and you wouldn’t be mad to call it the single of the year, even with the minute-long A.G. Cook-inspired dance break that sees out the flick. On the surface, Charli’s lead single ‘Blame It On You Love‘ with Lizzo is almost as sugary as the likes of ‘Doing It’ and ‘Break The Rules’ from Sucker. Really, it’s Pop 2‘s closing five-minute epic ‘Track 10’, reinvented for a larger audience. Going forwards, the almost Julia Michaels like pluckiness of ‘White Mercedes’ has all the hallmarks of another single – the pop star already promising a music video for the track.

On announcing Charli, XCX took to Instagram to label it her “most personal” work ever: “I’ve put as many of my emotions, my thoughts, my feelings and my experiences with relationships into these 15 songs.” And after years of sticking to her party mantra and dodging big ballad-writing, you’d be forgiven for scoffing at that.

But the 27-year-old wasn’t lying – there are moments on Charli when fans might ask, “is this really Charli XCX?”. ‘Thoughts’ stops the album in its tracks with a painstaking exploration of the star’s industry-caused anxiety. “I don’t wanna talk, I don’t wanna smile, no”, she muses. ‘February 2017’ with Clairo and Yaeji is an apology for sabotaging a past relationship “on Grammy night” and ‘Silver Cross’ is genuinely touching over its fast-paced production. Sad bangers galore.

It’s a potent balance the Charli XCX has found on Charli. After years of plugging her ears to industry traditions to prioritise the music she wanted to make, XCX knows exactly what she’s up to this time around. She’s stuck true to her progressive attitude and kept trusted collaborators by her side but now, aspirations are bigger than ever before. Charli is not only ready to climb the charts once again, but ready to put the name Charli XCX at the forefront of the industry. Not as a voice for the future, but as a voice for right now.

Rating – 5/5

‘Charli’ is out now on Asylum and Atlantic Records UK. Let us know your favourite tracks @CelebMix on Twitter. 

Written by Toby Bryant

Journalist and pop head.

Follow me on Twitter & Instagram @toby_bryant_.