Charli XCX: Crash review – breaking the rules of pop, or just playing with them? | Charlie XCX

IIt’s interesting to compare the cover of Charli XCX’s fifth album with that of its 2020 predecessor, How I’m Feeling Now. The latter featured the now 29-year-old singer-songwriter lying on a bed, staring absently at a video camera: a suitably low-key, ostensibly improvised image for an album written and recorded on a whim during the lockdown, the content of which has been the subject of comments from its fans and the making of which has been documented in Truth clips on Instagram. In contrast, Crash arrives with a heavily staged photograph that looks like it came straight from a fashion shoot in a style magazine. It features XCX sprawled on the hood of a car in a bikini and heels, staring through a cracked windshield with blood dripping from his forehead. What should be an image full of violence and shock is canceled out by the singer’s expression, however. For someone who is supposed to have been hit by a car, she looks oddly empty and bored; slightly sullen rather than shocked.

The illustration of Crash.
The illustration of Crash. Photography: AP

With Crash – her latest album for Atlantic – XCX says she has decided to do “a major label album the way it’s actually done”, and to embrace “everything that the life of a figurehead pop has to offer in today’s world – fame, obsession and worldwide hits.” It’s a hairpin turn from his usual way of doing things: off-track diversions of her 2017 Pop 2 mixtape, on which she scoured the globe for unlikely collaborators in order to imagine a pop world far more interesting, eclectic and colorful than the real thing; her frequent collaborations with producers PC Music, that propelled the emergence of hyperpop’s manic and extremely online sound. surprising that its relationship with the industry has been rocky. XCX has often nt seemed torn about whether she aspired to chart success or avant-garde pop. She presents Crash as a brave and provocative experiment, going against the ongoing love for “authenticity” in pop, but the idea that making ultra-commercial, label-pleasing music is an act of bold rebellion does not stand up to a great deal of scrutiny. .

What you might call mixed message leaks in music. Crash deals in DayGlo choruses and obvious interpolations of old hits that solidify knowledge of the concept of XCX. Beg for You, which stars Rina Sawayama, interpolates Cry for You, a Euro-dance hit from September 2006, which itself was reminiscent of Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy. Used to Know Me is essentially Stonebridge’s influential remix of Robin S’s Show Me Love with a different vocal melody – one that’s not quite as good as Show Me Love’s. At times, you can hear weariness and cynicism creep in, and those moments underestimate XCX’s well-established talents as a writer and performer of simple, low-concept hits. Baby’s pallid disco-pop, punctuated by oddly joyless and forced whoops, can’t be compared to his 2014 hit Boom Clap or Icona Pop’s fabulous 2012 XCX-penned single I Love It.

Charli XCX: Beg for You ft Rina Sawayama – vidéo

Some of that last song’s slimy wit seeps into Yuck, a witty examination of when a partner’s whims make them unexpectedly unimaginable. The title track stacks snippets of vocal samples over an ’80s boogie-inspired backing to powerful effect. But contrary to its concept, Crash is at its best in its most subtle moments. The often heartfelt lyrics weave their way through the various stages of a breakup, from the wistful memory of a failed relationship blossoming on Every Rule to regret on Good Ones and the shut-in optimism of Baby. New Shapes is a lovely collaboration with fellow pop outliers Caroline Polachek and Christine and the Queens. Each rule, meanwhile, is sparse and moving, its lyrics fixated on small details – “cigarettes on the balcony, wrapped in nothing but sheets” – but its mood is overwhelming.

The moments when XCX makes its distinction felt bring the weaker moments into even sharper relief. Listening to the constant AutoTune-heavy repeat or the closer featherweight Twice, you wonder if there’s anything that separates this from the acres of boilerplate pop already out there. You can talk about high concepts and processes until you’re blue in the face, but that doesn’t make the music any more interesting. Pop music is not concept art, although many pretentious critics would like it to be. There’s nothing wrong with applying clever ideas to it, but the end result should always be sparkling and exciting, whatever the intention.

Not only does Crash not work – or at least not entirely – but it leaves one wondering about its author’s motives. Despite all the messaging surrounding it, it sometimes feels less like a clever concept and more like a shrug; the work of an artist seeing a big five-album deal with a “whatever”. If there’s a saving grace here, it’s that the mercurial XCX – now a free agent – ​​will no doubt return with something more interesting sooner rather than later.