Again sporting production collaborations from the illustrious PC music crowd, Charli XCX presents a mixtape that pulls together sounds from freaky pop traditions and those dominating the Billboard charts. The album seeks out massive bangers to some avail, but also feels a bit like a “darts in the dark” pop record—each punching song sounds like XCX slapping together something insanely catchy, that COULD make the radio, and tossing it in the air to see if anyone’s interested. Also, the “Emotional” numbers are largely unsuccessful, sounding like another attempt to soundtrack “The Fault in Our Stars.” Cupcakke’s charisma is undeniable, MØ shows up for an especially fun number, but overall “Number 1 Angel” misses the mark.
The record’s highs are certainly high. We open on twinkling ambience before pillars of metallic bass and riding high hook float in at a fun, un-abrasive clip: “I’m a dreamer, step step out the beamer.” “3AM” follows suit with a collaboration that was meant to be. MØ’s rasp and energy combine perfectly with Charli’s hyper-intensive bubblegum aesthetic for the blistering dance-floor banger of the night. The quasi-dancehall vibe at the hook is absolutely infectious with both verses harping on the ever-relatable fuck-boy that you can’t let go of topic. Even the attack-on-the-ears “oohs” between the hooks are suitable for screaming out in the car. “Lipgloss” is also perfection. Cupcakke’s down and dirty lyrics present the poetic equivalent of the PC music sonic nightmare/rave: “so I can open my legs bon appetite.” The crackling synths usher in XCX’s equally naughty hook: “I keep it sticky like lip gloss,” making for a bold final album cut.
Besides these three tracks, there’s a small supply of fun, hard-hitting radio material and some overly gushing power ballads, both far too close to completely sterile music industry creations to be of any interest. Particularly at the chorus, “Emotional” jumps into that soaring movie-soundtrack sound with simple bass and snare combinations that evoke a summer music festival collection of hand claps. The lyrics are also as dull as it gets: “All over, deep under my skin/You got me so emotional/We had something that never happened/If only we had less control.” “ILY2” fades in next, almost sounding like “Emotional’s” coda. The verse is a bit more upbeat, but again we get a soaring chorus that’s just trying a bit too hard with luke warm lyrics: I don’t talk a lot so you should listen up.”
The album is also lacking in the typical PC music hardware, even on the best tracks. Obviously, in listening to “Emotional,” one can imagine that if the metallic bass sound were replaced with an electric bass or something or other, it’d basically be a Kings of Leon number, but even the chipmunked vocals at the end of “Drugs” sound like a hail mary at the end of an otherwise straightforward studio pop creation.
Charli XCX remains a very inconsistent force in the pop industry. She’s trying to uplift some experimental pop ideas into the mainstream, but a lot of times it sounds a bit too akin to the material she was making before running into SOPHIE. In her later endeavors, I hope to see her either take all the risks or perhaps just own the normal pop label and make a bit more of a lyrica statement.