Charli XCX sounds like what everyone thinks pop will sound like in the 2030s. She takes the usual pop star mold and shatters it with a futuristic phaser and it absolutely kicks ass. Her 2017 mixtape “Pop 2” is one of my favorite contemporary releases of the last few years, creating a vision of what music could be. With her latest album “Charli,” the artist born Charlotte Emma Aitchison boldly steps toward pop prominence, hitting more than she misses.
Charli is at her greatest when she leans towards Grimes not Gaga, pushing forward her experimental side to power her speakers. As strong as her natural vocals are, her tendency to pursue production that would make the average Billboard pop starlet blush is what pushes her forward in the modern music landscape. On “Charli,” XCX’s adventurous beat choices shine through. On the trippy opener “Next Level Charli,” bright synthesizers break through the pre-album silence, starting the album with a powerful declaration that the queen of genre-pushing pop is back.
The middle of the album showcases Charli at her best. The four-track run of “Thoughts” through “Silver Cross” sees her at her musical peak. Lizzo, one of the hottest names in music right now, comes through with a fiery verse on the radio-ready “Blame It On Your Love,” which will surely see steady rotation for the next couple of months. The production isn’t Charli’s usual techno-Britney, but she knew when to pull back. Anything more than what was given would have been an overstep. “Thoughts” is one of the most personal anthems Charli has ever put on record, a compelling open-ended letter on grief. “Did I fuck it up?” she asks. “Are my friends really friends now? Are they all far gone?”
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💌 BLAME IT ON YOUR LOVE FEATURING @LIZZOBEEATING IS OUT NOW ANGELS!!! 💌 I HOPE THIS BECOMES UR NEW PARTY ANTHEM 💌 THIS SONG HAS BEEN IN MY LIFE FOR AROUND 3 YEARS NOW AND I’M SO HAPPY TO BE RELEASING IT 💌 I LOVE YOU ALL. LET THE NEW ERA BEGIN!!!!! LINK IN BIO!! TURN IT UPPPP 💌
Unfortunately, it’s all too common in this day and age for an album to overstay its welcome and tack on one too many tracks for streaming numbers, and “Charli” falls folly to this curse. With the exception of the Clairo and Yaeji-assisted bubbly banger “February 2017,” the final stanza of “Charli” misses the mark. The bloated collab “Shake It” shows Charli falling into pop clichés, where a myriad of features spend nearly five minutes trading verses over a minimalist yet overbearing beat. Pass. Earlier in the album, the Troye Sivan duet “1999” derails the flow of the album, distracting from the future-forward vibes for an unnecessary throwback. In a vacuum the song is perfectly acceptable, but a good artist should know how to read an album’s vibes and what doesn’t match it.
All “Charli” needs is the removal of four or five fluff tracks and it’s one of my favorite pop albums of the year. Still, this is a very good entry into Charli’s short but consistently on point catalogue. When she’s on, Charli is a force to be reckoned with, and the highs on “Charli” can go toe to toe with the best in pop. Even at the lowest points of this record, her valiant production shines through, and you can at least bop your head to some futuristic clash-y beats before skipping to the next song.
Review: 3.5 out of 5
Daniel Cohn is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.