Charli XCX tells her listeners exactly what they are in for with the opening lyric of her September release, “Charli”: “I go hard, I go fast / And I never look back.” Bouncy synth chords surround these lyrics as they set the tone for Charli XCX’s newest album.
It does go hard, and it does go fast. Once the pounding drums enter the opening track, it is easy to forget about Charli XCX’s past work. This album exceeds the expectations set by a historically average pop career. The album is front loaded with pop bangers that demand to be blasted so loud they might lead to premature hearing loss, and its second half contains some of the artist’s most personal music to date.
The album’s first half is saturated with glittery, sugary synths, underscored by a booming bass that rumbles to create a full sound. This record is glamorous, futuristic and extremely danceable. Categorizing the album by genre is not an easy task. The music does, however, incorporate aspects of the hyper sugar rush pop of 100 gecs or Dorian Electra.
This hyper sugar rush pop sound works, because the underlying instrumental never gets too messy. The instrumentals fill the track with a meaty bass, rich synths and Charli XCX’s vocal. The bass and synth are never fighting each other for attention. Rather, they complement each other nicely.
A lesser artist would be drowned out by these bombastic instrumentals, but the production on Charli XCX’s vocal combined with her strong voice cut through these instrumentals to create a rich sound that is easy to get lost in.
The album’s tone shifts throughout the track list, but it never fails to feel cohesive. Aspects of tracks bleed into each other, but each song feels distinctly its own. “1999” is a dance club banger, “Click” has unsettling moments surrounding braggadocios verses from Kim Petras and Tommy Cash, and “White Mercedes” is a tearful ballad that highlights Charli XCX’s falsetto. She accomplishes quite the feat: creating an album with a sonically cohesive theme while keeping each track distinct.
The album touches on topics like feelings of inadequacy, nostalgia for a better time and regrets about past relationships. Thematically, the first five tracks have an upbeat sound, but lyrical undertones hint at a more emotional second half of the album.
“Next Level Charli” sets the tone of the album, “Gone” builds on this musical foundation while detailing the feeling of insecurity in a large crowd and “1999” is a nostalgic, modern pop banger. These three tracks are high watermarks on the album.
The first five tracks act to shield listeners from the less upbeat side shown on the album’s second half, mirroring a common defense mechanism of hiding ones’ problems. The album’s tone shifts, but the quality of the sound does not suffer for it.
“Thoughts,” “Blame It on Your Love” and “White Mercedes” detail the stages of failing relationships, culminating in her experience trying to cope with drug abuse: “I take all of these blue and yellow pills / But nothing seems to last like you.” The set list closes with more experimental instrumentals on “February 2017” and “2099.” Aside from “Shake It,” each song on the album is fantastic, and each contributes to the musical and lyrical themes of the record.
Charli’s combination of adventurous production and authentic lyrics come together to create one of the best pop albums in recent memory and the best pop record of 2019 so far. Five out of five stars.