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Album Review: Charli XCX – True Romance

Photo: Dan Curwin

You may be struggling to comprehend this but Charli XCX has actually finally put out her debut record! It’s real! It’s not a myth! It may have been a long time coming but the hype has rarely dipped below enormity thanks to the relentless flow of brilliance she has been issuing in the form of mixtapes and singles. ‘True Romance’ is the name of the anticipated debut and even before it’s formation, the hoards of fans have started to pledge their allegiance. A rainbow-tinged Charli sits on front of the sleeve as I pop out the shiny disc for the first time – the cover is apt. She is mirroring the sound she has made her own – on the one hand, it’s pure pop and on the other, it’s anything but.

I have to throw this out there early – Charli XCX is not really an album artist. Her sounds are much too eccentric, varying and experimental to really nail down a cohesive record in full. The mixtapes, self-confessed ‘vibe’-inspired efforts, had a short and snappy way of giving a flavour Charli had been working with but in record-length bulk, it all feels a bit much. View it as a negative if you wish, but it’s also testament to the way Charli XCX is one of the most modern artists the internet age has given birth to; as the music scene grows alongside technological advances, many artists like Charli won’t be needing albums for much longer anyway. Perhaps if ‘True Romance’ had been displayed in the form of a few EP’s à la Robyn’s ‘Body Talk’ series, the flavours might have been able to shine in their own light without hinderance. It would also succeed in placating the hungry fans that had waited almost endlessly for the albums release – win/win.

You’ll soon forget about all of this, mind you, when you lend an ear to the anthemic singles – you can say what you like about Charli but her ear for a single and unforgettable chorus is enviable. ‘You’re The One’ is the definition of the goth-pop label she has been tagged with and ‘You (Ha Ha Ha)’ is a snarky, sarcastic delivery of pure attitude. ‘Nuclear Seasons’ opens the record perfectly – it is a true embodiment of all that Charli XCX is about – catchy pop with a few twists and turns that you won’t expect. As for dud tracks, there aren’t many. ‘What I Like’ suffers from a bridge so brilliant that overshadows the rest of it whilst ‘So Far Away’ has a tremendous atmosphere but it’s vocal lines provide little to cling on to. As standalone tunes, there is little you will actually want to complain about.

With indie hype also comes a misconception that the whole project is overly artsy and whilst ‘True Romance’ does flicker that light once or twice, ‘Take My Hand’ is a pop delight that doesn’t smother nor dim it’s commercial leaning – even if that lovely outro will undoubtedly be chopped off in a radio edit. ‘Set Me Free’ gives more of the same and is possibly the lyrical highlight on ‘True Romance’ thanks to it’s gorgeous points of reference – ‘I am just crushed in the velvet’ and ‘I am still sinking in black skylines’ being just two of the refreshing turns of phrase that colour the warm beat and shape it as a standout from the album.

‘Grins’ and ‘Cloud Aura’ have a haunting vibe that sets them apart from the rest of the record and will keep you coming back for repeated plays – the latter’s structure feels like a genuine rap production which is difficult to pull off without sounding ridiculous whilst ‘Grins’ has been a fan favourite since it’s appearance on the ‘Heartbreaks and Earthquakes’ mixtape – it’s sing-a-long chorus is both enchanting and seductive. Things don’t ease up towards the end of the record either – ‘How Can I’ is the biggest grower on the album due to it’s fresh synths locking horns with a threatening beat and a sense of hopelessness in the vocal delivery. Harking back to the 80s, final track, ‘Lock You Up’, is a lovely merging of the mainstream pop and psychedelic electronic undertones that have been prevalent throughout ‘True Romance’ – it never tries too hard and gently hands over one last stunning chorus.

So whilst it might not be a flawless album, it’s a fantastic selection of tracks and it lends itself to the suggestion that album two which will surely have more fine tuning and end up being a pretty definitive era. As for now, we’re left with a few singles that deserve to be huge – ‘Grins’ and ‘Take My Hand’, I’m looking at you – and some choons that will evoke a tremendous response whenever they pop up on your iPod. The debut record is so often the best effort but with Charli XCX, you can feel that there is so much more, and better, to come – that unstoppable attitude will never see her settling for ‘7/10’ when she can easily get top marks.

Photo: Dan Curwin
Words: Simon McMurdo

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