We've all been watching Charli XCX as she navigated her way through the quarantine album. She set a date for the record before she'd even begun but she's managed to deliver a polished 11-track effort. Let's get started and see if she lived up to all our hopes and dreams.
We've become accustomed to a party mantra starting a Charli XCX album but this one has a sense of desperation to it given the situation. She wants to, "go real hard," but in stark contrast to Next Level Charli's rolling with our friends until 7am we're on the "video chat". There's a frustration to it that's really satisfying as A.G. Cook and Dijon cut it up with a furious instrumental.
Forever was the first one we heard and also the song that made us feel like she could actually pull this whole thing off. It's a love song that shows contentment in the current situation. Having watched the whole journey, we hazard a guess that the calm is not going to last.
Claws feels like it was made for the Vroom Vroom die-hards. While the rest of the album is gritty and personal, Claws creates a bubblegum world, tapping into all the senses. It's a euphoric love song but the beat is so elastic that at times it feels like she's jumping through a candy-covered video game. Dylan Brady's production on this is next level.
7 Years finds some perspective on her relationship. It looks back at the beginning and shows the same sort of vulnerability that she revealed on Charli. "Used to live inside a lie with you and now we're honest and it feels so good," she sings over an icy, metallic beat. There's a sense of triumph about this one and that's matched by the way Cook and BJ Burton take it into the heavens at the tail-end.
Detonate is a daydream. It starts with twinkling synths, the type that make Unlock It so surreal and it never quite comes down from the clouds. It's immediately one of the strongest tracks on the album with Charli delivering a gentle and slinky chorus. "I'm about to detonate, pull you close and then I'll be gone," she sings as she wrestles with current contentment and future uncertainty. This is Charli deep in her feelings and it's excellent.
If you're looking for the big, straight-up pop moment - this is it. Enemy is a rock-tinged ballad and the only song that Burton-produced on the record. Once again, Charli is frightened about somebody being so close to her - "Maybe you're my enemy, now I finally let you come a little close to me." Call this the White Mercedes of the bunch.
I Finally Understand
Interestingly, we thought I Finally Understand was the weakest of the initial drops until we heard it in the context of the album. It's a lyrical breakthrough for Charli after the uncertainty of the last few songs. It's a much-needed epiphany and a gateway for the rest of the album.
When Charli released Click last year, she went on tour, bringing many of her click on-stage with her along the way. With that no longer possible, the Click remix takes on another level. It's no longer a perky, shiny boast. Now, it's disintegrating with the mess eventually clearing away to reveal Charli singing about one of her few remaining physical click members - her boyfriend. "I miss them every night, I miss them by my side," she sings. Anyone in isolation will understand. Given that Charli's music has always been about unity between fans, it's a necessary flip in these times.
Party 4 U
Party 4 U has been floating around for a minute and while it never reached Taxi levels of notoriety, fans have been asking for it. Now, it's arrived in a strangely apt time. Through 1,000 pink balloons, we zoom into two people. It's essentially about intimacy, twisting the idea of a party in a really beautiful way. As the song progresses, Cook's production speeds up going from prom dance to rave in the space of a minute. It's the first truly mindblowing moment of the album and you're left feeling totally enveloped in Charli's world. Absolutely brilliant and likely to sit high as an all-time Charli favourite amongst fans.
We wondered whether Charli would be able to party on this album. How does the party queen party with no attendees? Well, she writes a bonkers rave track about everything she misses. Anthems, her friends, late nights, New York. She screams with I Love It-level recklessness and for anyone who feels the same it's going to be a cathartic listen. Danny L Harle and Cook have really delivered on Anthems - it's an absolute classic.
Charli starts the album closer gently much like her greatest moment Track 10. We're back to relationship chat as she seems to accept that this is actually going to work. "I've got pictures in mind, I can see it clearly and it looks so right," she sings, finally coming to peace with the future. As the endorphins rush through her, the beat begins to lift off. It goes from o to 100 in the space of a few seconds, offering one of the biggest trancecore moments of her career. It's a mindblowing closer and, in our opinion, one of the most spectacular things she's ever done. We've never wanted to party with Charli more in our entire lives.
We did have doubts about How I'm Feeling Now. The singles, while great, suggested that this may be a more demure sound for Charli given the isolation situation. Things change when you don't have physical collaborators to bounce your energy off but it seems we were very wrong. How I'm Feeling Now is an immersive, real-time insight into exactly where Charli is at. She's in love, she's reckoning with her emotions and she wants to go out really bad. That results in an excellent record that sometimes soft, sometimes anxious and sometimes ballistic. It sounds raw but it doesn't sound like it was rushed and easily stacks up to her previous releases.