Words by Farley Green
Charli XCX strips back to Charli in her newest and most personal material to date. By peeling back, on a personal level and temporally—taking inspiration from the heights of eighties, nineties and noughties sounds and fashions—we venture into the future. The album’s flow demonstrates this better than all else. We begin with the energetic but apprehensive ‘Next Level Charli’, then immediately plunge into the raw and futuristic ‘Gone’, a taste of the album in its production and intimacy; we’re transported to the past in ‘1999’ and Charli reflects on it (and herself) in the series of solo tracks from ‘Thoughts’ to ‘Official’. Finally, we venture into the future with the concluding track, ‘2099’, a visionary banger reminiscent of the dystopian, transcendental feeling of Goldfrapp’s 2000 single ‘Utopia’. And it’s not just the album’s flow that represents a reflection on the past to explore the future — the reworking of Pop 2’s ‘Track 10’, ‘Blame It On Your Love’ reflects on a previous set of lyrics over a haunting, melancholy sound, and develops them into a futuristic sad bop.
Charli would be nothing without its collaborators, which isn’t a criticism, but rather a celebration of Charli XCX’s exceptional ability to work with a huge team and retain such a coherent sound and vision for the album. Perhaps most notable is producer A. G. Cook, who pulls together the many featured artists with his palette of PC music’s futuristic sound, exemplified on the glitchy vocally manipulated outro to ‘Gone’, featuring the stunning vocals and musical flair of Christine and the Queens. Aside from the catchy hook and awesome flow of Kim Petras’s verse, ‘Click’ ends with what I can only describe as the musical transcription of time travel, an amazingly nightmarish mid-album climax. And a last moment of utter brilliance on the album is the song ‘Shake It’, which sees Charli enlist four collaborators to produce a song that celebrates sexuality and partying itself. The textural buildup of the verses, unearthly technological sounds, vocal processing, whispers, and synths is structurally very simple, and yet remains innovative and powerful — not to mention the amount of sass every single verse exudes.
There’s something about the personal nature of the album, contextualised within and placed alongside party bangers, that implies the grind of self improvement; Charli looks back at a past she might not even remember to reflect on the present and herself, and in doing so, envisions a better version of herself, and a better version of music and sound than what we’ve had or have now. The album takes us on that journey too, and if it teaches us anything, it’s that we mustn’t be afraid to laugh, cry, and most importantly, party on the way.