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Charli XCX’s ‘True Romance’: Album Review

Still riding high on the Hot 100 with the brazen “I Love It,” a song she co-wrote, demoed and graciously handed over to Swedish duo Icona Pop, Charli XCX deserves far more recognition than the “featuring” credit that single affords her. A battle-scarred pop veteran at the ripe old age of 21, Charli has been banging away at a music career since she was a kid, releasing artsy singles funded by her folks until an actual label (IAMSOUND) spotted her talent and snatched her up tout de suite. The two years since have been a slow burn; Ms. XCX bided her time with a handful of catchy but shadowy dance singles, remix EPs, mixtapes and live performances, winning over critics and fans all the while. Now the British ingenue is finally seeing the release of her highly-anticipated debut opus, True Romance (out today, ), and we’re happy to report that it’s a monster!

Listeners who first became aware of Charli through her initial run of singles will be relieved to know that those gems are included here and set the pace for most of the album. “Stay Away,” a Shangri-Las-esque lament married to a clanging industrial soundtrack, is stunning in its darkness, all teenage drama and brooding spoken passages. Its follow-up, “Nuclear Seasons,” remains a propulsive slice of goth-dance, its earworm melody suggesting an unholy collaboration between Siouxsie Sioux and ’80s disco darlings Nu Shooz. More recent singles “You’re The One” and  “You (Ha Ha Ha)” build on that template, sounding at once like number one hits, and yet something you’d only hear on the radio if you lived on Mars. Despite none of these singles setting the charts afire, they define the Charli XCX sound: emotional electro-pop delivered over a blend of forward-thinking grooves and dreamy soundscapes.

From there, new tracks “Set Me Free” and “So Far Away” continue the moody motif without losing momentum or inspiration, with Ms. XCX gradually adding a more euphoric angle to the proceedings. “What I Like” features an especially dirty hi-hat scrape alongside a playful sex rap (“We on some husband and wife shit/ I don’t really care ’cause I know that I like it!”), eventually giving way to the kind of misty chorus she’s made her hallmark. The perky “Black Roses,” “Take My Hand” and “Grins” similarly let a peek of sunshine come through the clouds.

Not content to let her producers (Ariel Rechtshaid, J£zus Million, Robyn cohort Patrik Berger) do all the work, Charli co-wrote every track and the entire affair holds together extremely well because of her upfront, expressive point of view. Simply put, every song is a page from her diary: romantic, frank, sometimes ridiculous and sometimes dark, but always sincere. Influences may range from the aforementioned Ms. Sioux to David Bowie and the Spice Girls, but True Romance owes not a thing to those artists, and sounds like nothing currently on the pop scene. Simultaneously sparkling and grimy, outfitted with wall-to-wall hooks and heavy on youthful pathos, it stands as an ideal pop album, and one of the most exciting releases of the year.

Standout tracks: “Set Me Free,” “Take My Hand,” “Grins”

Pops like: Robyn’s crazy little sister.

Best Listened To: in your bedroom, scribbling in a notebook while daydreaming about the future.

Twitter fan community should be called: Charli’s Angels.

Idolator Rating: 4.5/5

John Hamilton