If Charli XCX’s 2017 mixtape Pop 2 was meant to usher in the second phase of pop music, her third album, Charli — her first in nearly five years — takes that space and treats it like a personal playground. Having straddled the fringes of both experimental and mainstream pop since her 2013 debut, True Romance, XCX didn’t fully come into her sound until her first mixtape of 2017, Number 1 Angel; Charli is the culmination of all of the exhilarating output she’s produced since linking up with the PC Music collective back in 2015. With textures that combine the singer’s love of all facets of the term “pop music,” the record is simultaneously distinctly of its time and as future-facing as anything else out there.
Charli assaults the listener with a barrage of sounds from its very first second to its absolute last. “Next Level Charli” is an anthemic opener akin to 2015’s “Vroom Vroom” (even namedropping the track at several points), whereas closer “2099” — the second collaboration with Troye Sivan on the album — dissolves into sonic anarchy as it races to its end. In between these pillars, songs like “Cross You Out,” “Blame It on Your Love,” and “Silver Cross” are thundering, while the tropical “Warm” and syrupy “Official” offer brief reprieves.
Many songs on the record shapeshift within their three-minute confines, unsatisfied with any form of stagnation (much like their creator). You think you have the Christine and the Queens-featuring “Gone” figured out until it introduces an intense breakdown in place of an outro; “Click” is a jittery flex of XCX and her friends that can’t sit still for more than thirty seconds; the fragile “February 2017” begins as a straightforward electro-pop duet between XCX and Clairo before transforming into a tender ballad sung in Korean by producer Yaeji. Posse cut “Shake It” — the spiritual successor to Pop 2’s “I Got It,” and not solely for its reunion of the latter’s collaborators — pulls out the most stops on the album, its metallic synths clashing, splitting, dipping underwater, and short circuiting before it finally concludes. It’s Charli’s most audacious track, but XCX has always thrived on audacity.
Standout tracks: “Next Level Charli,” “Click,” “Shake It,” “February 2017”