If you’ve come to appreciate Charli XCX’s hyper-pop charm, you’ll love CRASH, released on March 18, a collection of dance tracks perfect to bob your head to. However, the fast-paced set lacks the expressionism that has defined Charli’s career so far. Especially following her latest, self-reflexive pandemic album, how i’m feeling now, CRASH deviates from that inward gaze.
Every song on CRASH fits the high energy of nightclub music, but the best tracks find ways to be original: They subvert the often hollow EDM club music style by layering melodies or incorporating elements of classical music. “New Shapes,” featuring the synth-pop vocals of Christine and the Queens, plays with a confident and bubbly ‘80s sound. The upbeat tone juxtaposes regretful lyrics about shying away from commitment, inspiring reflection from the listener about the complications of love and vulnerability. “Beg for You” is another highlight; Charli XCX shines in her lower vocal range over a harp melody, complemented by the more delicate voice of feature Rina Sawayama.
“Every Rule” strays furthest from the self-destructive lyrics and layered synthesized effects that are characteristic of many of the tracks on CRASH. It’s a pop ballad with a slow, gentle beat. Despite the more distinct sound, this love song falls short, lacking Charli XCX’s unique signature apart from unpleasant moaning. The lyrics are out of a high school diary, with lines such as “straight away, we started falling/Conversation never boring.” The ballad is simple, but not pretty—the auto-tune works against the supposed intimacy of a love song.
If there’s one thing Charli XCX excels at, though, it’s fun. For instance, “Baby” is a particularly groovy song, where Charli XCX delights in her allure with provocative lines such as “I’ma put you on the floor/Leave you wanting more.” The lyrics are simple and repetitive, but the dynamic instrumentals keep the track fresh. “Lightning” is another exciting song with some beautiful vocal harmonies, although the vocal splitting can be abrasive. To those devoted to Charli XCX’s characteristic experimental sound, CRASH may come as a disappointment. The album is unashamedly more mainstream than her previous records, which is apt in light of her recent lighthearted jokes about the joy of selling out. Though Charli XCX is not necessarily on a quest for authentic self-reflection in her music, this direction does allow for some more high-energy songs. Whether Charli XCX’s self-awareness saves the songs is up to the listener to decide.