“I’m about to crash into the water / Gonna take you with me / I’m high voltage, self-destructive / End it all so legendary.”
From the first moments of Charli XCX’s fifth record aptly titled CRASH, she is fulfilling a ten-year-old promise. In 2012, she shouted “I crashed my car into the bridge/ I don’t care” on the smash hit “I Love It.” Only a decade later, we see her go off the rails and into the surf. CRASH has brought Charli full circle as a chart-topping pop vixen. Despite releasing several critically-acclaimed albums, this might be the first time you’ve heard of the “Boom Clap” girl in a while.
With a rollout that included her name on a gravestone and Instagram captions like “tip for new artists: sell your soul for money and fame,” the concept here is not some “Main Pop Girl” fantasy—it’s embracing the pop machine on what might be her last album on a major label. In an interview with Zane Lowe, she said “Everybody is wanting to be as authentic as possible…that’s the norm, and I—as we know—have always enjoyed pushing against the norm.”
CRASH might be sonically controversial for long-term fans. On this album, Charli trades her usual palette of metallic snares and SOPHIE synths for wailing guitars, warm analog tones, and cellophane-wrapped drums. But she never sacrifices substance for style, crafting effortlessly-catchy hooks that will rattle around your brain for months.
The opening track, “Crash,” details Charli’s dedication to a blaze of glory with snatches of distorted vocals; it sounds like you kicked a Walkman down the stairs while listening to Prince. “Good Ones” is the platonic ideal of pop, suitable for gay clubs across America to blare ad nauseam until morning. “Baby” could be seen as a sexy, femme-fronted rewrite of American Psycho as Charli sings “I got no problem taking full control” prior to launching into a threatening declaration of “Imma fuck you up / Imma fuck you up / Imma fuck you up, baby.”
Charli tries her hand at interpolation on “Used To Know Me” and “Beg For You.” While the former is an update of “Show Me Love” by Robin S., the latter samples September’s “Cry For You” without much innovation. While both don’t seem out of place, they serve as a reminder that nostalgia can only stretch so far.
One can’t help but buzz with electricity in the vocoded pre-chorus of “Lighting” before it fulfills its potential in a chorus that commands the listener to jump to their feet. “Constant Repeat” is a treat for fans longing for a taste of hyperpop, delivering booming bass with concentric synth riffs. “Twice” is a refreshing cocktail that blends all the elements tossed around on the album. The song gives a slip of Charli’s inner monologue: “All the things I love are gonna leave me / One day, you’re never gonna be there,” before the ride-or-die attitude of “Don’t think twice” pulls her back.
If the standard edition of CRASH is a hit-and-run, then the deluxe is a confessional rant while handcuffed and pressed to the hood of a cop car. Charli explores the vulnerability beyond the baddie with radical self-acceptance on these four tracks. Ending with the head-out-the-car-window anthem “What You Think About Me,” she’s yelling “And I don’t give a fuck what you think about me / What you think about me, so yeah, fuck you!”
While CRASH is by no means perfect, or even her best record, Charli XCX has never been this big-budget, this bombastic or this approachable. In a way, it feels like Charli is shedding part of her music’s personality to reach a wider audience. Continuing in this direction would be disappointing, but knowing Charli, it’s only a matter of time before she takes another left turn. CRASH is an easy four out of five stars. The record is the perfect combination of pop perfection and trendy throwback, smeared in a sheen of Charli XCX signature lip gloss. If you’re looking for a way to get into Charli’s music, now is the time to call shotgun and buckle your seatbelt, because we all know from action movies that the real star always survives the crash.
Connor Stanford is a first-year theatre studies major whose motto is “Let’s Ride.” They can be reached at email@example.com.