Charli XCX’s ‘Sucker’: Album Review

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From mid-2012 to now, Charli XCX quickly became the unofficial “It” girl in pop — thanks to her penmanship on Icona Pop‘s breakthrough single, “I Love It.” The UK singer followed that up with a feature on Iggy Azalea‘s “Fancy” chart-topper, and soon almost all of the big names began knocking on her door (Rihanna, Gwen Stefani, etc). During her busy schedule, Charli managed to release her 2013 debut LP — True Romance. Yet the dark-pop stunner flew under the mainstream’s radar as she became more affiliated with providing hits for others instead of her own. Well today , that is all about to change!

Charli XCX’s long-awaited follow-up Sucker LP is officially out now, and it is definitely not a sophomore slump. The album provides a rattling punch to her female counterparts that shows the singer’s talent as a solo star. It is unapologetic, feisty and all about girl-power. With its Q4 release, the LP (it was first supposed to drop in October) falls under the shadows of less creative but unfortunately more popular albums — we’re looking at you, Taylor Swift.

But late reveal aside, it gives a jolt of energy that was lacking from music throughout the year. It is partly due to the diverse range of collaborators on the LP: Weezer‘s Rivers CuomoVampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, odd-pop genius Ariel Rechtshaid, Benny Blanco and Greg Kurstin. Thanks to them, Sucker smells less like beauty queen pageantry and more like raging teen spirit.

Sucker kicks off with the title track, whose opening line sets the tone for the rest of the album: “You say you wanna bang? Well fuck you, SUCKER!” The tune then revs up its engine with pounding drums and Riot Grrrl-approved harmonies. Next up is “London Queen,” where Charli channels her inner Ramone. It is super-punky, but keeps enough girliness as to not throw the listener off too much. The best part of the track is the singer’s throaty Cambridge accent as she sings about living the American Dream: “Now I live in Hollywood/ I can’t stop even though I know I should/ It feels so good, oh yeah, oh oh/ When I’m driving on the wrong side of the road, I feel like JFK you know.”

The singer keeps the punk rocker edge going with songs like her latest single, “Breaking Up.” The track serves as the ultimate kiss-off for girls everywhere, who are looking for an incentive to shake off their lowlife boyfriends. It is a sassy uptempo, filled with grainy guitar riffs and a shouty hook, that finds Charli shamelessly calling out every flaw about her ex-boo — including his ugly tattoo, cheap perfume and uncool friends. Ouch!

Yet some tracks on Sucker lack the punchy essence that is shown throughout the record, and they mainly sit towards the end of the album. “Famous” has a phoned-in production that we’ve heard before from the singer, with a semi-basic chorus: “One night, and we’re gonna come and crash the party/ Weren’t invited but we’re feeling so outrageous/ Just like we’re famous.” Another dud (don’t worry, there isn’t a lot) is the Phil Spector-style “Need Your Luv,” where you’re not sure if it’s supposed to be ironic or just plain sticky-sweet.

But the album picks back up with what I predict will be everyone’s favorite in the new year — “Doing It.” This tune embodies Mariah Carey‘s heydays in the mid-’90s, which is kept modern with Charli’s sassy attitude and dreamy synths. Her vocals are cheeky and cuts with sharp falsettos, as she lures in her lover with tangible charm. “Break The Rules” is a killer school-girl anthem that is brazen as it is bewitching, while “Body Of My Own” has a wild tinge of The Clash influence where Charli takes full control of her lady parts (think a kookier “Touch Of My Hand”). “Gold Coins” has a totally chilled and fuzzy vibe with boastful lyrics (“My grills are so neat/ Drip icy cold/ Got offshore bank accounts and diamond blue palm trees/ My platinum troubles/ I’ll drown ’em in pink champagne and escape into the sky in my own private jet”) and rhythms courtesy of Patrik Berger — a Grammy-nominated producer/songwriter (Robyn, Icona Pop, Lana Del Rey) whose work is threaded throughout this LP.

“Boom Clap” (a.k.a. the theme song for The Fault In Our Stars) is another obvious highlight, and shows just why everyone is calling on the artist to pen their future smash. The team behind former teen queen Hilary Duff actually turned down this song, and we’re so glad they did! The UK native was born for this track, which highlights her off-kilter vocals that soar above the icy, ethereal production. Critics and fans alike loved it, as “Boom Clap” peaked at number eight on the Billboard Hot 100.

Judging from her growth from the True Romance debut to this current album, Charli XCX is certainly a musical chameleon. In a recent interview with TIME, the singer revealed plans for her third project: “[It] will be heavily inspired by Japanese pop music and will sound like both ‘another planet up in the clouds’ and ‘intensely weird and childlike.’” Who knows when this possible “SuperLove”-inspired record will drop, and we’re not in a rush to listen to it. For now, we have a bundle of songs that give this year’s pop music a much-needed kick in the ass.

No song on Sucker goes over the four-minute mark, which is truly a punk and refreshing move. Every tune is compact enough to be a single, Beatles-style (or Rihanna‘s Loud, depending on what generation you’re in). Part of me does wish she went full spiky-haired, middle finger on the LP — but that can be blamed on her record label, who possibly wanted her to preserve her mainstream appeal.

Instead of hopping on the UK house revival trend or overloading your eardrums with cheesy synths and clocked-in ghostwriting, Charli decided to go back to the ’70s and ’90s to pay homage to punk rock and dream-pop. The singer’s rowdy personality on this record wakes us up from the overall drowsiness of music in 2014, and gladly so. Don’t like it? Well, too bad — you little Sucker!

Best Song That Wasn’t The Single: “Doing It,” which will bring you back to pre-teen days when you sang along with the ’90s pop greats in the mirror (with hairbrush in hand of course).

Best Listened To When: You and your badass crew of gals want to cause a riot in your city’s hole-in-the-wall bars (or prom, if you’re still underage).

Idolator Score: 4/5

— Bianca Gracie

What do you think of Charli XCX’s new album? Let us know in the comments below, or hit us up on Facebook and Twitter!