Most recording artists – if they have the talent and the chance to succeed – have to choose between music that will appeal to the greatest number of people and music that will push their genre forward. It’s rare for a pop artist to find the love of radio and underground listeners, but Charli XCX has been on both sides, making massive hits and music that has built a cult following on the internet. While the fluidity of her career has made her iconic, her reputation has come with a unique set of challenges for an ambitious artist determined to bring her music to more listeners.
She’s recently been the darling of the hyperpop genre, an exciting but declining pop style based on a Spotify playlist, but this trend has created a set of expectations for what music her new fans want to hear. Eager to push her music forward again, she now has to impress fans of her previous commercial projects as well as her new fanbase, built from her experimental pop with incredible projects like “Pop 2” and “How I Feel “. now.” Luckily, her new album “CRASH,” which hit streaming platforms on March 18, may be all the two crowds can love.
“CRASH” is a project that loudly declares that Charli XCX, whose real name is Charlotte Aitchison, is re-immersing herself in creating the radio-appropriate pop music that started her career, but she brings the experimental aesthetic that endeared him to his new fans. Set up by a jarring and divisive album cover, the music’s ethos sees Aitchison looking at fame through a gruesome lens and deciding to lean in, letting her fanbase know she’s selling her soul to the celebrity.
The intro and title track, “CRASH”, define Charli’s vision for the project by posing the themes of instability, self-destruction and unbridled confidence. While the inspirations for centering the project around a car accident have arthouse roots in films like David Cronenberg’s “Crash” and others teased on his social media, the opening track reminiscent of Icona Pop & Charli XCX’s 2012 hit “I Love It” that had everyone singing about how they were going to crash their car into a bridge. Nearly a decade later, Charli has modernized the crash with a danceable chorus that garners a career’s worth of sonic experimentation.
Although the record is his shortest yet at around 34 minutes, it packs a lot of unique power. “New Shapes”, which was a previously released track, envelops the listener in warm, ringing synths as Charli, Caroline Polachek and Christine and the Queens command the production. “Good Ones” and “Baby” stand out as great pre-release tracks, but “New Shapes” is an 80s-inspired track in Charli’s discography. While the tendency to rely on ’80s musical aesthetics has been a crutch for many artists, Charli combines it with enough modern pop grooves to prove that she doesn’t just follow trends, but improves them.
Part of how Charli has cultivated her own aesthetic is her tasteful use of autotune. The “Constant Repeat” chorus uses autotune at times to bring Charli’s vocals to a beautiful high point, making the effect more of an instrument than just a way to improve vocal ability. The manipulation of her vocals continues on “Move Me,” a slow, sensitive track that puts reverb on her vocals at the end of certain verses for a hauntingly dramatic touch. Throughout the album, Charli effortlessly controls the mood with her concise songwriting and soulful vocal performances.
While the album accomplishes a lot for a commercial pop record, there are times when the sacrifice made to achieve a less experimental sound is clear to listeners familiar with previous Charli XCX records. Some tracks towards the end of the record – such as “Lightning” and “Yuck” – don’t stand out from the energetic impact of the first half and feel closer to generic territory. While neither track stands out as terrible, “Yuck” feels way too silly to appear at the end of the record. Thankfully, “Twice” ends on a high note with the compelling juxtaposition of upbeat production against darker lyrics, underscoring Charli’s desire to live on when life makes her feel lonely and depressed.
While the engaging risks and experimentation of her past records have been toned down, “CRASH” is an ideal project for longtime fans who want to hear sounds from all eras of Charli XCX’s career blended into new ones. musics. The lack of features on an album aimed at commercial appeal may disappoint some listeners, but the deluxe edition – which was released on Friday – offers a chance to expand the vocals on the disc. ‘CRASH’ has the potential to finally help cement the British pop star as one of the most important of this decade, ideally leading to the replacement of every statue of Winston Churchill in London with that of Charli.