For “non-Angels” avoiding close attention to Charli XCX’s career, it may appear that Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” co-star faded out of existence after the mid-2010s. The English popstar’s fifth album “Crash” received her most promotion since 2014 and the blood-covered vixen and car crash motifs did their job in catching people’s eye.
But the motifs go beyond David Cronenberg movies and looking good in blood. “Crash” marks the end of XCX’s five-album recording contract she signed at 16 with Atlantic Records.
A dream for most young artists, XCX’s 13 years of employment was more of a nightmare. Delays, pushbacks, getting shelved and poor treatment all detailed and after only being two projects deep into the deal in 2019, Atlantic seemed to want out as well.
After pushing back against their star going off the pop path and refusing to officially release “Number 1 Angel” or “Pop 2,” the ordeal ended and XCX is ready to dance on the ashes of her contract.
Part of her shift to electro-pop icon that drove her label crazy stems from an unrivaled ear for production. A.G. Cook, head of pop label PC Music and XCX’s go-to producer, is the most hands off he’s been since “Sucker.” Cook delivers excellent production for two tracks, but the bulk of the workload is turned over to producers with a flair for eighties pop.
The style shift takes XCX out of her comfort zone and makes this more of a hands-on project. She’s master chef of the electro-pop community’s melting pot and blending different singers, producers, rappers and writers on a track without losing control is her best ability. However, she’s separated from her new collective here.
Even without her new community in tow, she effortlessly rides through “Crash.”
Following the isolation of “How I’m Feeling Right Now,” “Crash” shows off how skilled XCX is as a songwriter. Creating an album about how much you hate your label and still getting them to release it is no easy task, yet every track can still stand alone as a quality pop song for those not in the know. “Constant Repeat” is incredibly bitter yet catchy, questioning if they even know why she was pushed out.
The sidestep in production puts more importance on the catchiness of XCX’s writing to pull audiences in and the “Boom Clap” singer delivers. “Yuck” is one of the best earworms this year and it’s only flaw is that it’s only a smidge over two minutes long. Listening to the standout single “Good Ones” is even better in the context of the album.
XCX sounds excellent playing within the guidelines of mainstream pop for the first time in years, but there is a strangeness in the metacommentary. “Used To Know Me” is both the best Dua Lipa song ever and a statement on how her talents would have been wasted making paint-by-numbers pop… but it is still kind of a waste of her talent.
Trying to make another Christine and the Queens collab through a traditional lens did not work and “Beg For You” had similar issues. Her collaborators do not have her versatility. The “Vroom Vroom” singer could take anyone in mainstream pop’s sound and outdo them, this is not a challenge for her.
Returning to her traditional pop roots was a successful detour, but now that the trailblazer’s deadbeat label is out of the picture, hopefully, she can return to driving pop’s future forward.
Featured image courtesy of Instagram @charlixcx