REVIEW: Charli XCX claims pop throne with latest project

Charli XCX’s latest studio album, “Charli,” contains some of the singer-songwriter’s best work to date. (Photo from Atlantic Records)

It’s hard to believe that, with the Billboard Hot 100 top-10 charting songs (including the number one ‘Fancy’), four platinum singles and a niche fan base with the loyalty of a European mafia, Charli XCX is still underrated.

The artist’s extra-layered bubblegum bass instrumentation has made her solo work too jarring for casual radio listeners, but the unashamed peppy ear-worminess hasn’t given her much praise from “for the heads” critics either. Despite what her deliciously cocky and hilarious Twitter feed may tell you, she is often left out of the conversation of powerhouse pop stars of the decade. 

However, her most recent album, “Charli,” which was released Friday, is 50 minutes of proof that she deserves more. Unique, open and self-aware, the LP is an undeniably Charli XCX project, and if all’s right with the world, anyone who listens will recognize her talent.

The opener “Next Level Charli” begins with the beckoned lyrics, “I go hard, I go fast and I never look back.” Charli’s right. She doesn’t. The girl has no problem bombarding her listeners with radiant noise. 

From start to finish, there’s always at least three glitzy, tech-heavy syrupy-sweet melodies playing at once (not including her vocals). Much like her mixtapes “Number 1 Angel” and “Pop 2,” Charli’s production regularly sounds like Candy Land’s Queen Frostine and Willy Wonka both took deadmau5’s MasterClass on techno production and decided to debut their work at the exact same time.

But unlike her past projects, “Charli” is laced with a sense of vulnerability. 

This time, the love and loss-after-love songs ring closer to the core with more wisdom. Charli seems to understand heartbreak and reconstruction better on ‘Charli’ than ever before. 

“Blame It On Your Love,” one of the album’s lead singles, is a calculated, cute piece of electropop that still manages to echo with self-empowerment and a towering middle finger energy that feels like a reaction to raw, real-life circumstances.

The chorus — “Every time I f*ck it up, I blame it on your love” — is all about deflection of responsibility; yet the subtext screams that the artist has grown and is taking ownership of herself more than she ever has. Plus, it features Lizzo, who has the Midas touch for this type of anthem.

On the eponymous LP, Charli XCX seemingly does the impossible by making several songs that are haunting and full of self-examination still equally danceable as her previous work. “White Mercedes,” a lovely ballad hinting that her “I never look back” line might be a bit of a front. So is “I Don’t Wanna Know.” 

Recent pop stars have benefited greatly in their songwriting from taking a more somber, self-reflective approach: Lorde’s “Melodrama” and Kesha’s “Rainbow” were two of the best records of 2017. Both sounded like a complete change of pace for both artists, though. Here, Charli is keeping her recipe, just turning out a completely different and (still) delicious product. It’s a tough tightrope to walk and she does so masterfully. 

The only flaw in “Charli” is that so many of the songs on it were already delivered to the public as singles. “Warm,” “February 2017,” “Cross You Out,”, “Gone” and “1999” were all previously released. This makes the record seem more like a “Best of Charli XCX in the last year” playlist rather than a wholly brand new statement. 

Still, the compilation is layered beautifully. All the songs appear at the right time — its structure is such that the listener just has to admire how far Charli XCX has come. 

The record also has the perfect batch of features. HAIM, Clairo, Kim Petras, Christine and the Queens, CupcakKe, among others, appear on ‘Charli.’ Their presence is complementary to her vocal performances and reminds us how forward thinking Charli XCX is. She’s a pioneer and has laid the musical groundwork for so many successful artists. 

The final song on the album, “2099” is a celebration of Charli XCX for everything she’s done. 

Featuring Troye Sivan, she pounds home her “never look back message” and continues to prove how much of a forward thinker she’s always been. Synth pop has brought characters like A.G. Cook, Tommy Cash (who’s also featured on ‘Charli’) and 100 Gecs to the mainstream. 

Charli’s genre is  a groundbreaking genre that many still don’t know what to do with, but are in awe of. “Charli” cements Charli XCX as synth pop’s non-negotiable grandmother.