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Album Review: Charli XCX – True Romance

Seeing as the debut album from Notion 60 cover star Charli XCX is premiering over on that weird Pitchfork album streaming thing, we thought we’d let you have a read of our review, published in the new issue of Notion out on 18th April. Enjoy oioi.

Charli XCX has been a ‘thing’ since she was 13 and uploading rather fun synthy songs with silly raps about “ponies and glitter and rainbows and cupcakes,” as she put it. She had both fans and haters then, and so does she now – she’s always been contentious.

So what of the Charli we find now, some 7 years later? Well, the glitter and rainbows are still there, but more in a self-aggrandising online avatar manner. The songs, as any fule know, have moved on substantially: incredible yearning gothpop bangers and chartable-ifying Gold Panda stompers. And after what feels like a decade (and actually almost is a decade), we have her proper official debut album.

Now, I bloody love Charli XCX. I gave her her first proper magazine photoshoot feature, and her first solo magazine cover. Charli manages to spectacularly inhabit what I think a popstar should be: a bit bonkers and very obsessive over owning every aspect of her ‘product’; sometimes loveable, sometimes hateable, definitely talented, often frustrating, and in possession of several big tunes.

When you ask people about Charli, they pull a weird face. (Obviously these are people who have thought about Charli XCX, who, while many, are also few in the grand scheme of things – also a point to be discussed.) They sort of smile, but the other half of their face clenches tight. The Charli XSeizureX, I call it. They love her, or rather an idea of her, but they don’t quite believe in her.

There is something strident about True Romance, relentless as a Twitter feed, which seems desperate to make people believe, make people love her. It kicks off with a 1-2-3-4 of ‘Nuclear Seasons’, ‘You (Ha Ha)’, ‘Take My Hand’, and ‘Stay Away’, which must be up there with the all-time great opening salvos of a debut album. And while the very good songs continue to come, it’s quite difficult to keep up with a pace like that. It’s not necessarily front-loaded, but that start is so good, so attention-grabbing, that the moment the tempo dips you’re quite exhausted and your mind wanders.

Never for long, though. The gloomstomp of ‘Stay Away’ remains a high point, as it would on almost any album, and likewise the neon preening of ‘Nuclear Seasons’, but the pomp of ‘Grins’, brutal bad romance ‘How Can I’ and rugged “orgasmic love” ode ‘You’re The One’ are more than worthy running order mates. The magic of Charli lies in the combination of intensity – alternating between garish synths and thundering industrial beats – and the fact she knows her way around a tune very well. She’s never met a big verse she couldn’t out-do with a ferocious chorus.

True Romance is a great aesthetic victory for Charli: it communicates a strong and unique sense of self, like Lana Del Rey and her Hollywood Sadcore schtick. Where Charli trumps Lana is the sense of labour: Lana’s record felt thin, where here there are no missteps and every song is a banger. Some parts of Charli’s ‘thing’ seem studiedly cool right now, but in a few years, maybe less, they’ll just add a little extra-textual colour to a set of exceptionally good tunes. True Romance is a brilliant album: pop songs existing in the very specific world of their creator; elevating, emphatic songs of aggrandising love, raw and hyper-real.

- Michael C Lewin

Why not read Michael Cragg’s exceptional cover feature from Notion 60 here.

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