Monday, March 21, 2022

Review: Crash • Charli XCX

The duality of Charli XCX makes her pop music’s most confounding figure: Each time she releases an album, it begs more questions than it does offer answers. Does she relish in her portrait being blown up to gigantic proportions on billboards and subway station advertisements, or does she really want to retreat into an enclave of cult classicism and online memes? Does her artistry reside in earnestness, satire, or both? How many more meet and greets with gay men wielding douches, human ashes, and Twitter insults can she possibly handle? Her fifth studio album does nothing to clarify the matter, but it could be the end of the road for Charli XCX: This is Crash.

Marketed as a major label finale, Crash traces Charli as she morphs out of hyperpop – an internet-era genre of clangs, screams, and jolts popularized through her own Vroom Vroom extended play and later wedged into her self-titled 2019 record – and into close-tailored, high-luster synthpop. Coming from someone who batted away a commercial career years ago, the record feels more like a messy cosplay than a legitimate attempt at streamlined pop music, yet it mostly works as well as most clear-intentioned pop records when it steers clear of a few unremarkable ballads. Junglebeat and starbursts collide on “Baby,” an absolute smasher can be found in “New Shapes” with Christine and the Queens and Caroline Polachek, and “Lightning” delivers a hit of old school, pre-PC Music Charli XCX.

“Don’t think twice, don’t think about it,” Charli sings on the record’s closing number, “Twice.” It’s fine advice for any listener who might question this record's satirical, high-glamour mission statement. The track is delivered on the heels of “Used to Know Me,” a slick song so committed to club music that it interpolates the 1992 dance hit “Show Me Love,” and at the tail end of a record with a new jack swing title track indebted to Janet Jackson. In these ways, it’s a competent, very listenable record from a well-versed musician in the pop industry, but man, does it fly by without much notice: In just a half-hour, the record whizzes past smoothly without much of its promised disruption – and by the end, we've forgotten that we were supposed to brace for impact. But that's the goal of pop music, right? Oh, who knows.

Crash is available now under Atlantic Records.

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