It feels like forever since we had new music from Charli XCX. The singer’s Vroom Vroom EP, her successful experimentation with PC Music-affiliated producer SOPHIE, is over a year old at this point. Those waiting with baited breath for album number three only got a tepid lead single, “After the Afterparty,” and a vague, ever-changing release date. However, the Brit comes through with a mixtape as promised. There’s a lot riding on Number 1 Angel. It has to quench the thirst of desperate fans and win over casual listeners.
It’s clear that Charli’s goal here is catharsis. The Brit told BBC she “was staying up really late writing lyrics and being emotional” during the writing process, and these songs show it. The unreleased party songs she has performed at recent shows are largely absent, but diehard fans will recognize some of these teary-eyed gems. One of those is “Roll With Me” — a hopeful song about asking someone to go steady. Charli follows up her question by commanding “Say yeah!” before a dark synth breakdown hints at the devastation of a negative response.
Another song fans will recognize is “3AM (Pull Up)” featuring MØ. Despite it’s danceability, the song’s primary emotion is the desperation for affirmation that comes along with being vulnerable. In the past, Charli shrouded her mixtapes in film clips and plenty of reverb. Now, she lets the music do the heavy lifting. “Emotional” soars in a teen movie kind of way, especially on the post-chorus. The cheesy guitar sound on “ILY2” feels appropriate: After all, it’s an Avril Lavigne-sized breakup song.
When the singer isn’t making good on early career ambitions, she’s collaborating with life-long idols. Charli has frequently named Uffie as a major inspiration, and it’s easy to imagine her excitement at this collaboration. “Babygirl” is different from the raucous electro-bangers that made an impression on a young XCX, but it has a charm of its own. The 80s-influenced jam boasts a cheesy rap from Charli and a winning bubblegum chorus. As for Uffie, her verse is equal parts singing and nasal rap — lending merit to the idea of a comeback.
Not all of the collaborations are as inspired. “Dreamer” featuring Starrah and RAYE (one of the writers behind “After the Afterparty”) is as dull as that single (or “Drop That Kitty”). Compared to the rich depth she shows elsewhere on Number 1 Angel, this song feels dialed-in, despite the intracity of Starrah’s verse. By the time we get to “Drugs” featuring Abra, there has been so much doom and gloom that it almost feels routine. However, the track’s production pulls it through.
Thank goodness for “Lipgloss”, the CupcakKe collaboration Charli teased via social media, which ends the mixtape with a much-needed burst of energy. The rising rapper has a star-making turn on the track, making laugh-out-loud references to iCarly and men’s briefs. Charli’s chorus of “I keep it sticky icky like lip gloss” is both insanely dumb and insanely catchy, while the breakdown’s arpeggios have Danny L Harle written all over them. Oh, and the way Charli exclaims “oh damn” brings to mind Cassie from Skins.
For fans desperate for a champagne-fueled party album, Number 1 Angel will be too slow and too sad. However, the mixtape confirms that Charli is still the one to watch in pop — someone capable of penning a massive pop song and giving it emotional weight. Let’s hope the mixtape blows up and inspires her label to loosen the reins and release that album.