Charli XCX is a name you'll have almost definitely heard due to her huge pop hits such as 'Boys', 'After The Afterparty' and 'I Love It' with Icona Pop. Aside from her mainstream success, she's actually come out with some of the most forward-thinking, fresh pop records of the decade. 2016's 'Vroom Vroom' EP kickstarted this, seeing Charli team up with mind-bending, pop futurist producer SOPHIE, and following that with 2017's 'Number 1 Angel' and 'Pop 2' mixtapes on which she collaborated with various producers from the similarly innovative PC Music label.
It's not just a case of Charli being blessed with excellent producers though, she's a star who often wears her heart on her sleeve amongst these bubble-gum tunes and takes us along on her journeys. She's back with her self-titled album 'Charli' where she continues to grow.
'Next Level Charli' opens the record with lots of sparkle, pumping adrenaline as dazzling keys and ethereal airiness build up, Charli rapping in her in-your-face pace. There's plenty of rich escapism in the lyrics too, Charli talking about her fast life, with plenty of pedal-to-the-metal imagery.
'Gone' has synth-pop pulse as Charli talks anxiety, near snapping on the pre-chorus where she exclaims: 'I feel so unstable, f**king hate these people.' Christine & The Queens features on this track, and together they desperately question why they keep pursuing these failing situations. It's a powerful track and it's a positive to see such honesty when it comes to mental health in pop music.
There are tons of guest features on 'Charli.' Sky Ferreira joins for the lonely, warm synths of 'Cross You Out', and indie-pop outfit HAIM join for the nimble but sassy 'Warm'.
'Blame It On Your Love' features Lizzo and is full of maximum sass and swagger, just like everything Lizzo touches. However, it still maintains that magic, bubblegum-pop feel that's defined Charli XCX more recently. Then there's '1999' with Troye Sivan; a nostalgic desire for a simpler time.
As great as all these tunes are, though, 'Charli' is actually at its strongest when it is just Charli. 'White Mercedes' is quite the tear-jerker from the opening line ("Don't say you love me, 'cause I can't say it back"). Across tender, delicate plucking and bare clicking, Charli details this situation where she seems to be with the ideal person, even going so far to say "my friends think you're the best", but her anxiety is holding her back from fully embracing it. The closing line of the chorus sees her passively singing "all I know is I don't deserve you", and it's so defeated, you just wanna grab her through the speakers and shake her, assure her that she deserves everything.
'Official' is more positive, but it's an equally powerful love song. Here, Charli maintains a guarded delivery over glimmering textures and playful keys. It's something of a happy ending for Charli, as she accepts the love she was afraid to dive into on 'White Mercedes.'
Charli closes out 'Charli' with '2099' which sees Troye Sivan return for the '1999' sequel. This track is tense, moody and futuristic. The supercharged bass slinks up and down as Charli and Sivan use this outer-space imagery in the lyrics to compare themselves to how high they've reached as artists. On first glance it feels a little melancholy, but on further lyrical inspection, it seems more like they've reached this transcendent, astral plane of being beyond human understanding.
Overall, 'Charli' sees Charli XCX continue to innovate, never being afraid to get honest and show her vulnerability, allowing her listeners to connect with her. However, there are plenty of great moments to show the rise in her emotional well-being on this record too. It doesn't get much better than this in pop music and, if there's any justice in the world, no one will be able to escape this album.