Charli XCX has consistently walked a fine line between pop princess and hyperpop pioneer. But on Crash, she has dived headfirst into mainstream pop with an album full of nostalgia and creativity.
Crash marks the end of a five-album deal with Atlantic that Charli signed when she was sixteen. Whilst being able to enjoy creative freedom in her thirteen year-long partnership, it was filled with tension so thick even Will Smith would have felt uncomfortable. The singer-songwriter would tell her bosses at one point “If you want a puppet, just go and get yourself a puppet.” The kinetic popstar has always displayed a resilient spirit, which is what makes Crash such a surprise listen.
The twenty-nine-year-old has always dabbled in retro pop and styling’s that fall under avant-garde. She introduced herself to the scene as bubblegum but then made a swift left turn into brash hyperkinetic pop, with producers such as SOPHIE and A. G. Cook. As a founder of hyperpop, Charli created a genre of electro-eurohouse that many thought she would continue. What’s surprising is Crash seems to be a departure from her hyperpop genius, in favour of a pop-centric record (with the occasional trance glitch).
The album opens with the self-sabotaging mantra “I’m high voltage, self-destructive / End it all so legendary.” The title track’s fondness for destruction does not end there. It’s a lawless listen, filled with references to her 2014 single Boom Clap and punchy robotic vocals. The song fits perfectly into what Charli refers to as an “emotionally chaotic” record. The track swarms you with an onslaught of sound. What’s impressive is it’s not disjointed, but rather like controlled chaos that’s pleasing to the ear.
With this being Charli’s swansong record with Atlantic, it’s easy to think that this might be a lacklustre effort. But that couldn’t be more wrong. Charli has released an album that is stacked full of dance-pop hits. Maybe it’s a final “you snooze, you lose” to the record company, a “here’s what you could have won” taunt on her way out. The Cambridge born songstress said in a recent interview with NPR: “Throughout that time, I’ve never really utilized the major label in the way that I am supposed to. I’ve kind of always gone off-grid, made my own path.” It’s an end of era journey, with Charli starting where she left off.
The second single New Shapes follows the title track and it’s another pop-synth production. Reuniting with past Charli collaborators Caroline Polachek and Christine and the Queens, the song is an anti-romance anthem with lyrics “What you want / I ain’t got it” reinforced throughout. The trio complement each other perfectly, they all share an anaesthetizing siren quality to their vocals. The performances are soothing but the subject matter is blunt. It’s a noncommittal statement that follows the title track’s openness and reflectiveness. New Shapes is lullaby synth-pop at its finest.
Charli’s synth-pop vibrancy can be found on the stand-out Constant Repeat. It again releases a narcotic effect on the listener, with a celestial wave of sound that feels retro and futuristic at the same time. With pitch-shifting vocals that puncture the atmosphere and harness Charli’s gentle, forceful vocals. Whereas Constant Repeat feels celestial, Move Me feels like an industrial ballad. Its backing track draws inspiration from Soundcloud rappers such as Yung Lean. Move Me’s brooding, atmospheric synths and raucous drum pattern consumes the listener, producing a soundscape that feels deliciously ethereal.
The only low points on the album ironically are the singles that preceded its release. Baby, Beg For You, and Good Ones all feel stale and uninspired compared to the rest of Crash. But apart from those tracks, Charlie XCX has embraced modern and vintage pop stylings and released an album that takes influence from her early releases. It’s an atmospheric journey that is at times detached but always musically engaging.