Charli XCX – True Romance (Album Review)

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There is a healthy place for good pop music.  Some people who are keen fans of a genre look down their nose at pop.  They’ll say it’s cheesy, predictable and motivated purely by money.  They’ll scoff at people who listen to it as sheep who just listen to whatever is on the radio and they’ll accuse bands that release pop songs of “selling out”.

But pop music, or popular music, needn’t be a bad thing at all.  A good tune that everyone knows needn’t be a cheesy cookie cutter song.  There have been some classic pop songs that unite people on the dance floor, lead to some wonderful karaoke moments and can become a treasured part of your formative years.

Charlotte XCX AKA Charlotte Aitcheson has been in the music business for a long time and she’s a major fan of pop acts like Christina Aguilera and especially Gwen Stefani.  Charli’s music style is a gothic dance or pop music and she’s quite happy to admit she’s a pop singer, she wears the badge proudly, along with her giant boots.

Her debut album True Romance is a slick, upbeat slice of dark pop which was superbly produced by American Ariel Rechtshaid who has played a pivotal role in Charli’s rise to prominence as a musician.  Charli delayed her solo UK tour to produce the album and the hard work and skillful production values are evident in this album.

There are several tracks that have already been released as singles, Charli has been clever with her gradual marketing to her small but loyal fan-base.  Nuclear Seasons was the first single that she featured in alone and the album version builds up with a slow, atmospheric beat before just kicking straight into this up-tempo pop song.  Nuclear Seasons is better than perhaps you may first give it credit for.  It’s light and insubstantial but a decent pop song.

The slick, ambient cover/remix of Gold Panda’s “You” is next.  You (Ha Ha Ha) weaves around the glorious bangra influenced beat laid down by Gold Panda.  This song would be welcome on a dance floor and Charli’s voice is rich and a bit mocking during it as she sings about an ex who has spurned her.  “All alone, good job, good job, you fucked it up” she sings with a smile on her face.  This is a great song that makes a huge immediate impression.  The less said about the video the better though.

Take My Hand has never been released as a single and its a glitzy, raucous club tune with some great cheeky lyrics that anyone whose been part of the club scene would be familiar.  The line “Dont’ go to sleep, let’s go out” is a great call for a wild night out and the song fits that vibe.

The dark and brooding “Stay Away” is a paen to the destructive love and relationship.  The pain in her voice is evident and at points this track trascends the dark gothic pop and is superb, cutting edge dance music.  There is a twelve second stretch which puts the hairs on my arms up every time I hear it.

Set Me Free is a slick, cool blend of Gwen Stefani style vocals and a beat that would be quite at home in a famous Pixies song.  As Charli sings again about a destructive ex, this a soaring, gothic pop song which does occasionally descend into melodrama during the dramatic pause half way through!

Track six is one of the best tracks on the album.  A growling, Gothic dance song that positively seethes with sexual energy, it was sampled on the Super Ultra mixtape, making a huge impression then.  The lyrics are dark, yearning and a little bit sad but the song is far from a downer as it’s fused a backbeat that would be at home in a late nineties club scene.  It also recalls vocalists like Cyndi Lauper and Kate Bush for its use of high, keening calls in the background.

So Far Away is a swaggering girl power psuedo-rap that doesn’t quite come of.  Charli is a fan of rapping and it features as part of her music here and there.  So Far Away is built around it and whilst Charli is a surprisingly strong rapper, this song which features a few strong lyrical moments doesn’t really work.

Cloud Aura is her collaboration with Brooke Candy and whilst this also a rap influenced song, Charli sticks to more of her traditional vocal style while Brooke’s flows are much stronger and delivered with a bit more of a raw edge.  This lyrics don’t necessarily feel like a reflection on Charli’s love-life as much as the others do.

What I like is a light, floaty and pop influenced tune that has some nice, clever lyrics where she speaks about “We were on some husband and wife shit” and helps establish the character that she’s not just some wild disco chick looking to get laid, she’s been looking for someone special.  There is a nice drop at the start of the song too but the album isn’t very dubstep which is actually a refreshing surprise.

Black Roses is a gloomy, floating dance tune that is a rare downbeat track on the album though it’s still got a nice fast beat.   However it’s no match for the optimistic, loved up and pure energy of “You’re The One” which was a minor hit for Charli.  This song which Charli herself has said is about “pure orgasmic love” is a glorious pop tune and recalls so much about being in love.

Her direction turns sharply with “How Can I” where she sings about the nature of forgiveness.  “How can I fix what I fucked up” she calls out with a sense that she already knows the answer.  The EP track “Forgiveness”, which doesn’t feature on the album, is a much stronger tune about this but doesn’t fit the tone of the album as well.

The album finishes with the late night / early morning blissed and bleached out tune “Lock You Up” which is a wonderful, glowing tune which should be familiar in its tone and lyrics to anyone whose been in love, or just come home late from a great night out a club.

Charli’s music would be quite at home on the radio being played as a pop act or on the dance floor of a club.  Her tunes do occasionally become dark and dancey but also generally maintain an upbeat tone.  True Romance has been described by Charlotte as a paen to her love-life, good and bad and that’s apparent with the lyrics of the album and the tone of the songs.

She doesn’t have the powerhouse voice of someone like Lana del Ray but her music is a slick, well produced and Gothic dance that can put a smile on your face and a bounce in your step.  She’s a fine live performer too and you cant help but think she deserves a moment or ten in the sun to match her effort she’s put into becoming a star.

True Romance is well worth a listen.  You never know, you might fall in love.