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Review: Charli XCX is content to dance alone in the flames of pop music in ‘CRASH’

Photo courtesy Atlantic Records UK

By Jacob Tate     3/22/22 11:17pm

When an artist’s ninth project feels nostalgic, it’s usually a bad sign. It figures that pop music chameleon Charli XCX would buck that trend, delivering tracks simultaneously yearning for early aughts dancefloors and pushing modern pop forward. Despite profound senses of déjà vu, “Crash” navigates between Charli XCX’s past sounds of moody teen pop (“True Romance”), diva snark (“Sucker”) and sawtooth buzz (“I Love It”). The results are solid but ultimately replaceable in the context of Charli XCX’s discography.

The narrative delivered through the project’s opening, titular track and promotional rollout held great promise. Fans were to witness the demise of a popstar, rubberneck at the flames and watch her “end it oh-so-legendary.” Unfortunately, Charli XCX’s dedication to making a pure pop album overwhelms any sense of story. While there’s still a sense of self-destructiveness in songs that admit “I always let the good ones go,” it’s just par for the course for a Charli project. That’s a shame, since Charli XCX’s best projects have an interesting relationship with pop music due to her unusual proclivities for hooks and futuristic experimentation.

Fortunately, the songs still slap in unique ways. “New Shapes” boasts massive saw chords that never resolve to the tonic, ramping up tension in the self-asserting chorus. A return to the posse cut form of previous albums, Christine and the Queens delivers a solid verse while Caroline Polachek steals the show on the bridge with the best vocal performance of the album. “Move Me” delays the 808 drop in the chorus to the point where its rocking hit provides pure catharsis. “Every Rule” shimmers like a classic ’80s ballad and sounds beautiful, despite its disturbing tale of relationship infidelity. Finally, “Yuck” provides one of the better anti-love anthems of the last few years with Charli chanting “Fuck going lovey-dovey on me.” Her goal of just trying to get lucky is a fun reversal of men using women in their songs for years. 

There’s not a bad song on the album, though there are some clunky production choices —  “Lightning” plays out over a pastiche of sounds in the uncanny valley between harmony and dissonance, and “Used To Know Me” leans a little too hard into the generic sounds of UK house. In general, the production pares itself back and lets Charli XCX work her craft. For an artist whose best work has come from mixing instrumentation, singer and concept, it falls short compared to past efforts. As a result, “Crash” becomes a good album that is outclassed in every facet by another album in Charli XCX’s discography. 

“Crash” proves that Charli XCX can make a great pop album, but she already proved that to her fans long ago. Unfortunately, its pop bops don’t go beyond a surface level. In fairness, all Charli XCX albums have been grown on me, and I’m sure this one will too. The difference is that while other Charli XCX projects inspire me to binge the whole album, I’ll probably just pick a few tracks from “Crash” to stick on a playlist or three. 

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