Charli XCX has carved a niche for herself in recent years as one of hyperpop’s most beloved flag-bearers, but with her new album Crash, she has opted for a record that is well and truly pop.
Fearlessly tackling a spectrum of gritty, experimental instrumentals, the Cambridge-born singer has grown accustomed to having her vocals warped, skewered and scattered over everything from trilled hi-hats and ricocheting breakbeats to ghoulish harsh noise, with no sounds off-limits. Sure, her relationship with commercial music has coexisted alongside these leftfield explorations, but it’s her outings alongside the likes of PC Music head honcho A. G. Cook, cult favourites 100 gecs, and the late, great SOPHIE which have come to define her catalogue of late. Going back to basics for her fifth album was therefore something which few envisaged, but the decision makes perfect sense – Crash is nothing short of a victory lap.
Every bit as effervescent as its pandemic-induced predecessor, how i’m feeling now, Crash is the culmination of several years of work. Recorded partially pre-COVID, its lyrics span multiple relationships, and its personnel includes Oneohtrix Point Never – whose contributions here predate his record-breaking work on The Weeknd’s Dawn FM – as well as True Romance producers Ariel Rechtshaid and Justin Raisen. Elsewhere, chart mainstay Digital Farm Animals, most notable for his recent work with YouTuber-turned-popstar KSI, injects some good old-fashioned UKG flavour into the Rina Sawayama-assisted “Beg for You”, and Cook resurfaces on the atypically mellow offering “Every Rule”, in which Charli achingly grapples with the moral dilemma of breaking off an existing relationship in order to pursue somebody new.
Nods to the sounds of yesteryear crop up a few times over the course of the LP: the bubbly duet “Beg for You” manages to stitch together elements of throwback songs by September and Milk Inc. and simultaneously play to its two singers’ strengths, while “Used to Know Me” finds Charli celebrating her independence over a reworked version of Robin S’s evergreen floorfiller “Show Me Love”. Having recently revisited Stromae’s “Alors On Danse” on the Saweetie-assisted mega-hit “OUT OUT” with Jax Jones and Joel Corry, she’s clearly got the bug for Eurodance, and has no problem repurposing these universally familiar melodies for a 2022 audience; a challenging task which she recently described as striking a balance between “nostalgia” and “pure futurism”.
At the same time, she’s just as comfortable dabbling in the kind of cheeky, funk-inflected earworm primed for TikTok; the hilarious “Yuck” finds her aghast at a love interest’s cringeworthy displays of affection, however well-intentioned they may be, and the recent single “Baby” is a vibrant assertion of her sexuality, decorated with fast-paced guitar licks. With live instruments present throughout, these arrangements stand in stark contrast to how i’m feeling now’s electronics – here, the meandering electric guitar lines at the end of title track “Crash” and the flamenco-esque flourishes on the late entry “Lightning” are a real treat, crossing over into a hybrid soundscape entirely absent from her last album. Where that was detached and synthetic, this is connected and organic; a celebration of hope, love and spontaneity as both her catalogue and the world at large inch closer to some semblance of their old ways.