Charli XCX takes mainstream pop to new heights here. Since her 2016 album leak, the British sensation has grown considerably. Her art, though harsh and out-of-body at times, delivers the punch in the gut pop music needs. This new record, her third studio album, clocks in around 51 minutes. And lemme tell you, this is about the sleekest 51 minutes you’ll hear all year. Possibly within the next few years, honestly. From top to bottom Charli celebrates the present while keeping an eye on the future. Pop music gets a bad rap much of the time. Yet it is the popular genre that evolves the quickest. Charli XCX is at the helm of this current evolution, flipping the genre on its head to create a whirlwind of wacky soundscapes and romantic vulnerability. Following my initial listen, I hardly knew what to makes of this thing; it has no peer.
Additionally, it has no fear either. From the jump “Next Level Charli” sets an experimental precedent. Even though this song has difficulty functioning outside of its introductory role, the more I listen to it the greater its impact becomes. This along with the futuristic banger “Click” remind me heavily of her 2016 EP Vroom Vroom. That project turned me into an XCX believer. Despite not collaborating with any PC Music members, primary producer A.G. Cook absolutely flexes here. Crackling additives, bubblegum bass, and glitch-tastic synths culminate into a massive pop experience. During the album’s midsection we hear Charli’s softer side. If I were to listen to a random handful of these songs, I would’ve never guessed they belonged on the same album. However, Charli and friends found a way to blend abrasion with cloud-like aesthetics. This album is rebellion in the truest sense of the word.
Gone are the days of pop stagnation. The truth is clear as day: if you aren’t making pop music with the vision of a Charli XCX, simply stop making it. “Silver Cross” is my favorite pop song of the year. While listening I picture being at an underground Euro dance club with a good chance of getting lucky. Also, “Gone,” featuring Christine and the Queens, will perform well for months to come. Start to finish it may be the best mainstream pop song since… I dunno… “Starboy”? She weaves heartfelt emotion in between wild party anthems, exuding an inner conflict many of us struggle with as we grow older. Although there’re a few moments here, like “Warm” with HAIM and “I Don’t Wanna Know” that certainly underwhelm, overall Charli shines bright amidst the current pop landscape. Nevertheless, even they have redeemable qualities about them that add breadth to the tracklist.
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