Written Before Listen
Charli XCX is back with a brand new record. I’ve been a fan of Charli’s recent work but it turns out she’s leaning towards a more accessible direction this time around. Her hyper pop leanings have now directed to more dance-pop and vintage 80s aesthetics. With that being said, I’m a huge fan of 80s Dance-Pop and the most recent Dua Lipa record was a perfect example of that, so let’s hope Charli releases something up to par with that and without further ado, let’s get into it.
Charli has always made sure her production in her music is top-notch, the snare sound on “claws” still gets me to this day and the synths on “anthems” are still blaring in my head when I think of Charli’s name. This time around, she takes a dance-pop direction and the album starts with new jack swing beats with boxy drums, flourished synths, and quirky bass. With songs like “Move Me”, “Every Rule” and “Twice”, Charli tries a mellow alt-pop direction and it would be an understatement to say that she doesn’t fulfill the skill of a Billie Eilish or Lorde. On “Used To Know Me”, we have a euro house style track but the bass sound sounds exactly like the bass sound DJ Mustard couldn’t stop using in 2014. On “Beg For You”, Charli tries for a 2-step direction and it just sounds like muzak to me. So I’ll say that there are some missteps but luckily there are some good production choices. Despite how I feel about the corny hook, the beat for “Yuck” is groovy and follows the new disco sound. The production for “Good Ones” and “Lightning” really dates back to the 80s synthpop with its use of vintage drum machines and synth arpeggios, and “Baby” is one of the flirtiest beats Charli has ever gone on, and it’s done with justice. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are surely some instances where the production could’ve been better but there are still its highlights.
Charli was one of her own on her previous album. She was a high contender for the person that was most likely to push forward the pop realm, and she almost did but now, she decided to do something more vintage and throw it back a little. Most specifically with the songs “Good Ones” and “Lightning” which are songs I like but they are so New Order, that it’s easy to predict that songs like “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Blue Monday” were references for those songs. Throughout the album, we do get hints of Britney and Lady Gaga which is expected for any Dance-Pop record, and there are also some hints of Michael and Janet Jackson with songs like “Baby” and “Crash”. Do I like how she uses these influences? Absolutely, but it does confuse me that she would go in this direction when her previous style was so original.
Look. I’m not someone who disses someone for “selling out” because I don’t like that term. For example, you can still make great music while leaning towards a more pop direction. Look at Kendrick with DAMN, Metallica with The Black Album, and Bruce Springsteen with “Born In the USA”. Those are albums that might not be their most ambitious but they are still great albums. There are even albums that go with a more commercial direction and they end up being one of their best works. Look at Fleetwood Mac with “Rumors' ', The Clash with “London Calling”, The Who with “Who’s Next” and many more. What I’m trying to say is that I have no problem with artists going in a poppier direction, but I just don’t think Charli does the best job with it. It’s not separating itself from other dance-pop records and the songwriting is also dumbed down as well. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t mind that Charli is going in this direction, but I don’t think she does this well.
Charli was never super keen on features but she wasn’t shy about them. This time around, she has a couple. On “New Shapes”, we have Christine and the Queens and Caroline Polacek and I do like the song, but neither feature stands out to me in one way or another. There is also “Beg For you” with Rina Sawayama and I know the collaboration sounds good on paper, but the outcome turns out to be one of my least favorite tracks on the album. So I will say with confidence that the features were disappointing.
As an album that only spans 33 minutes, Charli overstays her welcome. There are 12 songs and the only major stylistic switches are “Baby” and “Lightning”. The rest of the album consists of rather dance-pop throwbacks and alt-pop ballads. With that being said, This album was mainly wasted potential.
Well, this was solid. There were a couple of great songs, but it does come with its weak points without a doubt. Let’s hope Charli’s next venture into this style is more complete and well-formed next time.