True Romance

The English singer Charli XCX’s first two tracks to get attention, “Nuclear Seasons” and “Stay Away,” announced her mammoth ambition from the get-go. Nothing about “nuclear” says small-scale, and “Stay Away” shot for the rafters with its big, two-word hook: “Stay Away.” These two songs were strong buzz-builders (and both make liberal use of an electronic buzzing sound), industrial-strength candy, thick electronic pop that’s shooting for the top.  Right now, that’s where Charli has ended up, due to her radio smash “I Love It,” which she wrote for Icona Pop.  The song has been out for a year, but it’s climbing the U.S. pop charts this summer, a thunderous explosion of caring and uncaring all at once: “I don’t care—I love it.” Now Charlie hopes to capitalize on her rising profile with her debut album, True Romance.


True Romance draws on a variety of electronic sounds currently percolating through the bloodstream of pop. “Take My Hand” bounces on club-friendly electronic glitches. “You” contorts around a high, darting beat that evokes early Passion Pit (though there’s no chorus of children, for which I’m most grateful), and the high, ghostly sped-up backing vocals that compose the beat of “Cloud Aura” lands somewhere between Passion Pit and the early 2000s soul-rap done best by a certain Kanye West.  “Set Me Free,” with its massive synths whirring back and forth, could be the work of the production team Stargate, who helped put together Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” and Wiz Kalifa’s “Black And Yellow.”

Whatever Charli is feeling, she feels to the max. Sometimes this is the need to get blasted, as in “Take My Hand,” where she requests, “don’t go to sleep, lets go out. . . get blown away.” More often it’s an intense desire to be with someone or as far away as possible from someone. “You’re The One” (not to be mixed up with Rihanna’s “You Da One”) basically combines “Stay Away” and “Nuclear Seasons” while also managing to up the melodrama: “You’re the one that’s been stealing stars/ your golden arrow went through my heart/ . . .you’re the one who came along and unlocked the cage/ now I’m dancing in the dark.” She wants to “lock you up inside” her heart; she’s “been pushed around” and “can’t breathe;” her “heart is frozen in chains” and she wants to know to put back together the things she “fucked up.”

Charli knows how to swing for the fences, but the danger of always taking a big swing is that it can be more obvious when you don’t connect. Sometimes she’s self-defeating—“What I Like” could be a simpler take on something M.I.A. might have done, a bunch of thin electronic sounds corralled into a sing-song lope.  But there’s a 30-second middle chunk that sucks away the song’s momentum.  And the occasional nods to hip-hop on the album often seem half-hearted.

Charli’s strongest when she goes back to the same sounds she started with. In addition to “You’re The One,” “Black Roses” follows “Nuclear Seasons” but organizes that thick sonic fog into a march. This shows how durable those early tunes are, and though it may not be the best long-term strategy for Charli, to paraphrase Icona Pop, who cares? She loves it.



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