Label: Asylum Records
Released: 18th March 2022
For someone so open, Charli XCX remains somewhat of an enigma. A pop polymath, she’s spent her previous four albums and associated mixtapes, EPs and creative endeavours flicking around the zeitgeist’s dial trying to find signal amongst the noise. From brat-punk to the early sparks of hyperpop, huge collaborations to intimate bedroom pop, there’s little she’s tried and not found a way to excel at. And yet, in so many ways, ‘Crash’ feels like the first time we’re hearing the real Charli.
Heralded throughout the run-up as the final album in her deal with Atlantic Records, there’s a suggestion that this is Charli unleashed. Set free of expectations of what comes next, she’s out here, living her best Big Pop life. In others, though, it’s the sound of a triple A-list songwriter working tighter to the brief than ever before. A collection of giganto-bops flung with gleeful abandon, Charli is nothing if not a juxtaposition. This time, though, the results are nothing short of a triumph.
The layers within ‘Crash’ are countless. On the one hand, it’s a collection of pop looks combining to fizz and frazzle from the first spin. Opening title-track ‘Crash’ is a voguing ‘i like it when you sleep…’ era The 1975 pushed to extremes, all clipped guitars and 80s neon glow. Early singles ‘Good Ones’ and ‘New Ones’ prove that both on her own or with a crew, few can craft a bop like Charli XCX, while ‘Baby’ drips with sass and swagger, fuelled by orchestral stabs and a fearsome promise to ‘fuck you up”.
But ‘Crash’ isn’t just direct hits. It’s a meta marvel too. As a standalone single, Rina Sawayama collab ‘Beg For You’ might have left a few hoping for something more from two of modern pop’s defining icons. In the confines of an album, it soars. An interpolation of September’s 00s hit ‘Cry For You’, it’s a definitive spearing of the trend for reinterpreting those previous club bangers to grab the tailwind of a TikTok trend. Building and deconstructing pop music at will, it’s a sign of a master crafter at work.
From torchlight epic ‘Move Me’, to the mid-00s blogpop meets 80s excess of ‘Lightning’ and the raw, emotional stab of ‘Every Rule’ – it would be easy for ‘Crash’ to feel like a collection of disparate songs. While its sonic palette may shift, though, its quality never drops. Instead, it’s a monument to Charli’s ability to drift across to spectrum, changing hue as she goes. Only one track drifts beyond the magic three and a half minute pop sweet spot, most leaving the listener wanting more. Tight, focused and moving with dangerous intent, ‘Crash’ is Charli XCX’s main character moment.