I don't know if it's the constant temptation to be outside for no reason at all, or my restless anticipation for summer to arrive, but I found myself surprisingly enjoying Charli XCX's True Romance. I'm never usually one to rave about a pretty girl singing over poppy synth, heavy bass, and early techno beats. Besides her poster image persona with the effortless grungy hair look that surely took hours to style and the ironic hints of 90s style like a leather choker - Charli's still got a certain flame. Her flare embodies stereotypical hipster irony, and after listening to this album, I'm fine with that. I'll take her over Lana del Rey any day.
Conveniently, True Romance sounds like it was made the same year as that studded collar. There's genuine depth to her fusion of 80s/early 90s nostalgia with a modern, mainstream sensibility we've yet to encounter. You can feel her Karen O-esque sass even on slower tracks like "Set Me Free - Feel My Pain." She's brazen, and she sounds as unforgiving as her backdrop beats. Her vulnerability can also be felt on "Stay Away." It truly illustrates her maturity and her seriousness, not to mention it sounds like it emerged around the same time as she was born. "I knew you were no angel / But god you're just electric blue," cries Charli, and her lyrical versatility between rapping and singing stings like a shot.
"What I Like" stands as one of the more modern sounding tracks, and that's not a fault. It's a surprising blend of bliss and bass. Charli's swift rapping styles and techno-fueled framework make it colorful enough to play on repeat. "Take My Hand" adds the ideal twist of youthfulness to the album. On paper, the lyrics seem rightfully cliche, but the titter-tattering bridge and Charli's convincing, looped whispers are honest. Despite the fact that she's only 20 years old, Charli sounds (and looks) fearless, confident, and already accomplished.
Her collaboration with Brooke Candy is catchy, but it doesn't harmonize well with the concurrent thematic sound of True Romance. It's far too Auto-Tuned, and Charli has proven she sounds perfectly fine without the vocal crutch. All of this is coming from someone who is still questioning what the hell is so enticing about her co-written sensation "I Love It" with Icona Pop, but that's a story for another day.
If you are like me, and feel primarily skeptical about this Brit chick, don't miss the playful party ballad "What I Like." If Lana Del Rey or Sky Fereira possessed nearly a tinge of Charli's zest, they too would be able to pull off a song like this. Take a listen to "You - Ha Ha", and good luck in advance trying to get the video game slurred beats out of your head.
Regardless of who Charli sounds like or what she's trying to do with this album, as her debut, it's full of sour pleasure. She's fearless, but not the brand of crafted cheekiness that her public image perpetuates. This chick doesn't care, and she's not afraid to rap about it, sing about it, or dress like it. Although the theme of this album seems to celebrate said 80s techno synth, each track sounds neatly separated. It will be interesting to see where the next year takes miss Charli following this release, but we're rooting for this volcanic hipster gal to brew some more quenching pop music.
Watch Charli XCX command the crowd during her full performance at Hype Machine's Hype Hotel: