Illustration by Alexandria Moore
Charli XCX’s third studio album “Charli” is a heightened continuation of her mixtapes “Number 1 Angel” and “Pop 2.” Featuring mixed themes of isolation, indulgence and friendship, “Charli” near-perfectly melds frenetic dance tracks with somber pop ballads.
It has become a bit trite to say Charli XCX is the future of pop music, but there really is no one else doing it like her. “Charli” is here to prove it, even with its couple of blips. Executive produced by A.G. Cook, this record is incredibly cohesive with futuristic, sci-fi concepts blending into Charli’s current self-understanding.
The blaring, anthemic opener “Next Level Charli” builds the album’s foundation with glitzy synths leading into Charli’s harsh vocals. “Next Level Charli” has Charli XCX announcing and celebrating her latest evolution as a celestial pop being. Featuring shoutouts to her own post- “Boom Clap” tracks, “Bounce” and “Vroom Vroom,” Charli is using this as a way to officially declare she is not that “Sucker” girl anymore.
Themes of loneliness from “Pop 2” have made their way to “Charli” and remain as relatable as before. “Gone” is an essential Charli XCX track with claps and steady synths. Featuring Christine and the Queens and heavy-hitting lyrics about feeling alone in a room full of people, “Gone” exemplifies Charli’s masterful ability to mix moody lyrics and dance beats.
Charli XCX understands what her fans need more than any other artist. This understanding can be heard in “Click” featuring Kim Petras and Tommy Cash. A pop track that switches from glossy Mother Goose-like choruses to gritty, confident verses is already perfect. Tossing in a closing 30 seconds that sounds like drills and blown-out speakers is just a cherry on top.
“Charli” builds on Charli XCX’s continued love of huge collaborative tracks with a total of 14 credited features. Some people might not like the idea of having so many features on a solo album, especially a self-titled one. The thing is that most of these features sound authentic and feel like a way of extending the artists’ creativity.
Every girl and gay who logged into Tumblr in 2012’s dreams were met on the Sky Ferreira featuring “Cross You Out.” Decorated in twinkling piano chords and a creeping bass, “Cross You Out” blends the melancholic sounds of Sky Ferreira and Charli XCX’s music in an ‘80s-inspired power ballad.
A standout track for plenty of reasons, “Shake It” is a CGI alien-strip club bop that features four femmes delivering heavily explicit and confident verses. Big Freedia, Cupcakke, Brooke Candy and Pabllo Vittar all deliver with not a single weak point.
“Warm” featuring the Haim sisters is an essential example of Charli XCX using her features to actually collaborate with other artists. Both Charli and Haim sound as though they are using each other like instruments in an effort to create a great pop song. This is what Charli usually succeeds at as there are barely any moments on this album that stand out as chart-hungry desperation.
Lack of chart-hungry desperation on tracks like “Warm” and “Cross You Out” make the Lizzo feature “Blame it On Your Love” all the more disappointing. Even if choosing to ignore how “Track 10” is a far superior version of this song, this entire song’s existence feels basic. This is really the only moment on the album where it seems like a feature was tossed on a song to gain streams.
Charli does not need features though.All the solo tracks are solid. “Silver Cross” is by far one of the best songs on the album with its shimmery, icy, video game-like beat. Moody tracks like “Thoughts” and “Official” also benefit from lacking features as it ups the level of lyrical intimacy.
“Charli” might not be the most digestible album of Charli XCX’s, but it is her most intimate. Off the wall tracks like “2099” and “Click” mixed with friendlier tracks like “White Mercedes” and “1999” might seem awkward, but it all works for the most part. “Charli” stands to prove Charli XCX as a continually evolving artist with an incredible ability at building a cohesive record.