Album review: ‘Charli’ displays growth, innovation

Charli XCX wants to take you with her into the future. “Charli,” her self-titled studio album, is an experimental electronic pop adventure and her most personal work to date. 

You might know the UK artist from the 2014 success of her songs “Boom Clap,” “Break the Rules” and her feature on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy.” But since then she’s grown into a unique futuristic sound with a cult following. “Charli” uses the strongest elements from her last project, the critically acclaimed “Pop 2,” and pushes her power in songwriting and production to new heights. 

The album is deeply personal, revealing a choppy narrative of a romantic relationship with the highest highs and lowest lows. 

Charli tells Jessica Herndon of SPIN.com that she is, “inspired a lot by parties and my friends.” It’s not hard to hear that influence in this album, with raucous, booming party songs setting the backdrop for the breaking up and making up of a romance in softer tracks. 

On the first track, “Next Level Charli,” she tells the listener to “Turn the volume up in the party, put your hands up and dance.” That’s followed by the anxiety of being trapped in the same party in the song “Gone.” 

Much later in the album, a more somber track called “Silver Cross” references parties again. Charli sings “We go out all night, makes the pain hurt a little less.” This makes the album feel cohesive both sonically and thematically. 

One of the strongest elements of “Charli” is Charli’s knack as a collaborator, handpicking artists that bring unconventional and enticing sounds to do features without letting them overshadow her. 

“Click” and “Shake It” are both infectious songs about a little more than flexing like a rapper and being sexy, but the standout performances from the artists on them, like queer icon Big Freedia and Cupcakke, make them two of the best tracks on the album. 

“Charli” features 12 different artists, and Charli’s voice and sound still shine through all of them. 

The other thing that makes “Charli” so successful is the spotless production on the album. Charli’s long-term collaborator and friend, A.G. Cook, incorporates heavy 80s synths, booming basslines, crazy robot noises and a thick coat of autotune on all of Charli’s vocals. The album is a study in maximalist pop that doesn’t let any pieces sound out of place. 

Songs that were released as singles in the weeks prior to the release of “Charli,” like “Warm” and “Gone,” fit easily into a cohesive album sound, despite being quite different. 

The low points of the album are there, of course. “1999” and “Blame It On Your Love,” released as singles between a year and six months prior to the album, now feel clunky and dull inside an album with much more avant-garde production. However, the inclusion of these songs doesn’t detract from the otherwise strong tracklist. 

“Charli” is a pop experience and a testament to the dedication of Charli XCX developing her sound and honing her craft. It has songs to dance to, songs to cry to and songs to blast in the car. It is exciting and playful, exceeding the expectations of her oldest fans while also showing new ones what she is capable of.

allison.harris@mail.umkc.edu

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