ALBUM REVIEW: Charli XCX – True Romance

True Romance artwork
True Romance artwork

ARTIST Charli XCX

ALBUM True Romance

LABEL IAMSOUND

RELEASE DATE 16.4.2013

7.3 | 10

Charli XCX rose to prominence in early 2013 as her bombastic single with Icona Pop, “I Love It,” finally broke through in the U.S. The track, which she wrote for the Swedish duo, perfectly showcases Charli’s innate ability to craft a Top 40 juggernaut. On her debut LP the songwriter steps out from behind the curtain and shows herself to be a highly competent entertainer in her own right. The 13 tracks here all aim for the top of the charts, and she might hit her target thanks to her breaking the ice with that Icona Pop duet.

A lot of these tracks have found their way onto the interwebs prior to release, yet hearing them in the context of a full-length album gives the tracks an added dimension missing from the single treatment. “Nuclear Seasons” and “You (Ha Ha Ha)” are two of those songs, and they open the album on a high note. Clocking in at just under five minutes, “Seasons” is a risky way to introduce Charli to her Top 40 audience, but rather than alienating the listener the track shows that this artist has the talent and confidence needed to pull off such a thing. She wades through the track’s dense production until she arrives onto the shore of one of the most instantly gratifying choruses on the record. The aforementioned “You” samples the fantastic Gold Panda single of the same name, and further shows Charli as one of the more forward thinking artists aiming for mass appeal. “We were the cool kids, you were old school, I was addicted to the new shit. We were addicted to the blueprint and now we’re never going to trace it,” she sings on the breakup song. Not showing up here is any of the angst of breakup songs from other female acts such as Alanis Morissette or Adele. Instead, she seems almost relieved that her lover “fucked up,” as she ends the chorus by singing lightly “ha ha ha.”

She uses the themes touched upon on “I Love It” as a springboard for the excellent “Take My Hand,” as she provides a very compelling argument to a lover to bathe in the bright lights of the night life rather than dream it all away. “Why you gotta go to sleep, don’t go to sleep / Let’s go out, get blown away, lost in the dark. Get real high and never come down.” Hardly groundbreaking in terms of lyrics, Charli rather relies on creating an atmosphere recalling the most memorable nights of your life, full of uncertainty and thrill.

Everything here is the sweetest of ear candy, and while the ballads don’t work as well as the more upbeat numbers, “Set Me Free,” is the best of the lot, with her giving us her best Gwen Stefani impersonation during the verses and pre-chorus before dipping into a seductive vocal performance during the chorus. She does rely a little too heavily on spoken word moments, which tend to drag her songs down. “So Far Away” has some of the dazzling synths reminiscent of “You,” and her breathy delivery recalls Mariah Carey on the Busta Rhymes track “I Know What You Want,” while her rapping sounding like a doped-up version of Ke$ha. It’s true that the second half doesn’t pack as much of a punch as the first half, with “Cloud Aura” being the biggest head scratcher. The second half is saved by the inclusion of her fantastic “You’re the One,” and “What I LIke,” which rival anything on the first half in terms of instant appeal.

What it means to make “pop music” is vastly different in 2013 than it was just a year ago. In the past year, a Canadian Idol runner-up scored the biggest pop hit since “Bad Romance,” Mumford & Sons somehow became the equivalent of Nirvana in the early 1990s, as a whole slew of “folk”-inspired artists including The Lumineers, Phillip Phillips, and Of Monsters and Men scored big hits, Rihanna and Bruno Mars’ most successful singles were piano ballads, and a Korean rapper garnered significant airplay and single sales. EDM still very much has a spot in the surprisingly diverse makeup of Top 40 DNA, and with more and more lesser-known acts such as Icona Pop getting discovered by the masses, Charli XCX could not have picked a better time to release this collection of pop hits. Whether she gains the level of notoriety of the Carly Rae Jepsen’s and Katy Perry’s of the world remains to be seen, but truth be told, sonically, she’s already won.

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