Spontaneity and all its consequences
Whether your first encounter with Charli XCX was the smash hit “Boom Clap,” her feature on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” or her experimental mixtape “Pop 2,” the 29-year-old U.K. native has defined her 13 year-long career with walking the line between mainstream popstar and underground dynamo. On her fifth major label album CRASH, Charli blurs these separate realms into an introspective masterclass in pop music that is energetic and surprisingly meta.
The album begins with the titular track “Crash,” which describes the soul-crushing euphoria of destroying all you love, all through the perspective of a car crash. For the uninitiated, this album draws heavily from the 1996 film of the same name, which centres around a group of symphorophiliacs (a.k.a. people who are aroused by car crashes).
Charli ties in this reference when she says, “I’m about to crash into the water… I’m high voltage, self-destructive… End it all so legendary,” all of which is proclaimed over a thumping 90s-inspired bassline.
Cars are a recurring motif in Charli’s discography; “Vroom Vroom”, “White Mercedes”, and Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” of which she has writing credits, all allude to vehicles, so it feels natural that this is how Charli leads this album.
“Good Ones” is Charli’s two cents into the 80s resurgence engulfing current pop music. Its lyrics reflect on a love that slipped through her fingers, a theme also present in “Constant Repeat” which features an addictive synth that loops on constant repeat.
“Lightning” describes electrifying agony, with instrumental music that could be straight out of an early Madonna song. This album is cohesive both in its sounds and its themes, and you won’t find many surprises. No glitchy breakdowns or glaring beat switches here, which were plentiful in 2020’s how i’m feeling now. Every move CRASH makes works and fits into a greater scheme, but it will leave long-time fans hungry for something to suddenly shake the senses; a trick that Charli is synonymous with.
Charli does, however, do something new on this album, and that is sampling. “Beg for You,” featuring Rina Sawayama, borrows entirely from September’s “Cry for You,” and “Used to Know Me” samples “Show me Love” by Robin S.
The latter track repurposes a familiar sound into a self-love anthem, whereas the former leaves room to be desired despite great vocal performances. Sonically, this album draws heavily on the past, which is likely a product of Charli’s desire to subvert away from an on-trend indie appearance and lean further into mainstream pop trends.
Charli mentioned in her interview with Zane Lowe that she feels empowered in going the traditional big label route this time and leaning more into the now; a move True Romance era Charli would have fiercely rejected. This is rectified by her having the creative liberties (and soon-to-be contractual freedom) to do as she pleases, including playing the same game as everyone else, all while putting her own XCX twist on things.
CRASH can be summed up into one central idea: spontaneity and all its consequences.
When in the moment, you love hard, lose hard, play hard, and crash hard. But as Charli says in the album’s closer, “Twice,” it’s best not to think twice about it. Now that Charli has satisfied all five of her obligated major-label albums, her next direction is uncertain. This album is a thoughtful reflection of everything leading up to it while still being welcoming to new fans. It may feel safe at times, but it just goes to show that nobody has pop music down to a science quite like Charli XCX.