5 out of 5 stars
In the recent evolution of pop, there are a few artists who have actively made an effort to stand on the cusp and push pop music, and music in general, forward into wonderful and creative territory. One artist who has broken considerable ground is the British pop star Charli XCX. She attracted attention early in her career with hits like “Boom Clap” and co-writing songs like “Fancy” performed by her and Iggy Azalea. But in the past few years, Charli XCX has been moving steadily away from the conventional pop world, embracing more cutting edge artists like SOPHIE and working with producer AG Cook, both of whom have crafted unique pop-esque music that are as catchy and dancy as challenging and abrasive. Her last several releases, including mixtapes “Number 1 Angel” and “Pop 2,” have demonstrated Charli’s take on these styles, and were masterful and innovative releases in their own right. But even with all these releases, before “Charli,” it had been five years since her last album and fans and the world were eagerly waiting.
The first song on “Charli” is “Next Level Charli” which should make her intentions clear — this record is about development; it is a record of change, growth, and her exciting revolution. “Charli” is an incredible next step for her and stands as a sign for what she wants pop music to be working toward and maybe even where pop music is on its way to. With a flurry of guests and features as well as a simultaneous introspective bend to the lyrical content, “Charli” is a perfect example of how we don’t have to be alone and that often it is in the party that we find comfort and our equals.
While the opening track “Next Level Charli” feels like the introduction to the album, the song that feels like the true start of the album is “Gone,” which was one of the six tracks that were released as singles before the album. “Gone” could be said to be one of the most powerful songs of the year with Charli and artist Christine and the Queens trading verses and singing the chorus together. The song navigates tension and introspective questions of anxiety with energetic relatability. Between their lyrical concerns of personal uncertainty and insecurity, and the energetic, pounding, larger-than-life nature of the music, the song takes on a mighty and anthemic quality.
But in many ways, these personal concerns and themes of introspection, which are central to the album, are conveyed in much quieter and intimate ways on the rest of the album. “Charli” is full of stories that sound like they come directly from Charli XCX’s own life, tracing conflicts and personal drama throughout. But it is really irrelevant to know her life, the album is really about the experience of the listener. In that respect her words are compelling and her message is relatable and comforting. For her to share as she does on “Charli” is a gift to listeners and the music world, offering solace and comfort and even reasons to party. On her latest album, Charli XCX offers a really special work that, by turning so inward, has just as much burst outward offering a real connection. “Charli” follows one’s lows and turmoil but also one’s highs; even in its whispers, “Charli” explodes with swagger and bombast that assures you that even if your world is chaos you might as well shake it.