In seeking to have so many other talents on her first album for five years, Charli XCX often makes everyone sound the same…

For someone so ubiquitous, it’s remarkable that Charli is Charli XCX’s first album since Sucker landed in 2014. Back then, its hit, Boom Clap, and accompanying glam-tinged celebratory shows made Charli (real name: Charlotte Emma Aitchison) potentially her generation’s Debbie Harry. She was a reminder that pop should be about defiant individualism rather than the machine-tooled careerism of Jess Glynne. So it’s frustrating to report that Charli often sounds like it could be from absolutely any pop star that you could name.

Eight of Charli’s 14 songs are collaborations, yet the vocals on most of the album are so treated that Christine And The Queens, Haim and Sky Ferreira’s usually distinctive voices are mixed in to the same echoey, anonymous patterns as Charli’s own previously forthright holler.

Lyrically, Charli is as sharp as its maker’s previous two albums. Few singers are better at capturing the everyday realities of a current pop star’s solitary existence, faking it ‘til you make it in an industry where the money is running out quicker than you can say “sync deal”. It means the relatively stripped-back Official is a haunting masterpiece, chillingly beautiful in laying bare Charli’s heartache. But other ballads like White Mercedes and Cross You Out are hamstrung by aping every other minimal, Spotify-gaming commercial pop turn of 2019.

The formula sometimes works – Silver Cross joins the singles 1999 and Lizzo duet Blame It On Your Love as brilliant statements of wild euphoria. Best of all, Shake It distils Charli’s love of PC Music’s computerised beats into an updated take on Madonna’s pin-sharp provocative pop.

Charli XCX is an undeniably brilliant pop star, with the perfect attitude. She’s capable of making the pop to match. So when she’s creating empty, shrugging filler like Thoughts or I Don’t Wanna Know, it’s a double let-down. Tommy Cash phones his verse in on Click so badly you hope he gets cut off, though the rest of the song is admittedly no better.

When Charli is good, it’s fantastic. But, after two stopgap mixtapes, it’s not the statement of intent Charli XCX should have been making after so long away from a full body of work.

Hopefully she won’t leave it another five years before trying to get it spot-on next time.


John Earls

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