Depending on how the next decade or so unfolds, Charlotte “Charli XCX” Aitchison could conceivably go down as one of the most important figures in 21st Century pop history. Having signed to Atlantic records as a teenager, XCX has charted one of the most surprising career paths for anyone signed to a mainstream label. Having begun as a reliable creator of bubblegum pop, she’s since become one of the most compelling and consistently left-field artists in her genre – a founder of the distinct, polarising hyperpop genre. On her final album under the Atlantic label, she pulls yet another surprising move – this time by opting for an all together more conventional sound.
Aitchison has described Crash as her sellout, top-40, commercial pop album – perhaps intended as a final farewell to the sounds that made her before permanently moving onto the weirder and wilder. It’s hard to imagine, however, any of these songs fitting neatly on the upper echelons of the charts – and one has to wonder if Aitchison knew this from the get go. At the album’s best, these songs are too idiosyncratic to enter into the mainstream, at their worst, it’s because they’re frankly too dull. “Every Rule” tells an age old tale of wrong-place-wrong-time, but reads ultimately as a dreary homage to mid-00s adult-contemporary, a la Celine Dion. The NSFW “Baby” aims to be a classic sex-anthem but lacks the required lyrical follow-through and vocal commitment, while missing the lush sonic pallet that has defined the best recent songs in this vain – Doja Cat and SZA’s “Kiss Me More”, Ariana Grande’s “Positions”.
Crash bristles along, unencumbered – ultimately clocking in at an economic 33 minutes – and thankfully contains more highs than low. These are songs written with foot in the past and one in the future; the sounds of vintage pop and House subtlety revamped. Crash is the work of someone who before anything else, is first and foremost a pop music fan – even in it’s weaker moments, it’s clear these songs were crafted with a great deal of love and attention to detail.
Highlights are scattered across Crash – the delightful, Lily Allen esque “Yuck” comes in the album’s final third, while the appropriately moving “Move Me” – which evokes both Tove Lo and Tove Styrke simultaneously – arrives at the album’s half-way point.
The best two songs here, however, happen to be the first two. Opener “Crash” is a bold statement of intent; painting a fatalistic tale of demise against fittingly intense arrangements – including an addictive drum fill between verses. “New Shapes”, meanwhile, sees Aitchison team up with Christine and the Queens and Caroline Polachek; effortlessly achieving synergy between their alternating alternative styles. It’s a fitting feat for someone whose music has become a salve for the margin-dwellers – for those too big and too bold to fit into society’s existing constraints. The song – which of all the album’s 12 tracks, comes closest to replicating her experimental signature sound – tells of three people excruciatingly contorting themselves to conform to a partner’s desires. In the final chorus, they join forces all at once for the first time, to liberate themselves from their self-imposed shackles. “What you want / I ain’t got it”, they cry – a fitting mission statement on an album that refuses to conform to expectations.
Best Tracks: “Crash”, “New Shapes”, “Move Me”, “Yuck”
Worst Tracks: “Beg For You”, “Every Rule”, “Twice”