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Charli XCX, ‘True Romance’ – Album Review

Charli XCX True Romance
Asylum

At the tender age of 21, Charli XCX has accomplished just about everything in the pop star playbook — except for releasing an actual album. But that’s all changed now that her debut LP, ‘True Romance,’ dropped today, April 16.

After years of giving away mixtapes, co-writing smash hit singles, electrifying the Hype Machine with dozens of remixes, opening for the likes of Coldplay and Marina + the Diamonds, and stealing thunder at SXSW, the time has come to see if she can deliver the goods.

Does she ever. The year 2013 is still young, but ‘True Romance’ is already a shoo-in to land on our year-end Top 10 list. While Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez and Katy Perry all have bigger brand name recognition, pushing the envelope isn’t exactly what made them famous. ‘True Romance,’ on the other hand, flat out burns the envelope by pushing pop music into a sinister, deliciously decadent, new territory. Finally, we have an album the goth kids and cheerleading squad can agree on.

Charli and producer Ariel Rechtshaid (Usher, Alex Clare) jumpstarted the Delorean and went back to the future, deep-mining ’80s new wave, goth-dance and early MTV pop to create a truly modern masterpiece. It sounds as if MGMT and Lykke Li set out to make a ‘Music’-era Madonna record, packed with synth swells, blips, bleeps, bloops, dark undertones and psychedelic curveballs.

1. ‘Nuclear Seasons’
This single came out in the fall of 2011 and was immediately embraced by the hyper critical hipsters over at Pitchfork. Here, it is preceded by a trippy intro theme (a preview of ‘Grins’), where our pop goddess falls through the clouds before bouncing off the main track’s big rubbery synth hook. [Listen Here]

2. ‘You (Ha Ha Ha)’
While ‘Ha Ha Ha’ is about love, relationships and blah, blah, blah, the lyrics also speak to the winning mix of classic and modern sounds. “We used to be the cool kids / you were old school / I was on the new s—.” [Watch the Video Here]

3. ‘Take My Hand’
Set to a monster, OMD-meets-Trio (“da da da”) hook, Charli sings “Don’t go to sleep, let’s go out / Get real high and never come down.” Later, when she adds, “Won’t you please just take my hand,” you would be a fool to not follow her to the dance floor or just about anywhere else. [Listen Here]

4. ‘Stay Away’
On this brooding, chill-out track, Charli experiences seller’s remorse… Or does she? Over a dark bass line, Charli sings “I never needed anyone, but now that you are gone / Stay away.” You can feel steam rise from these ice cold words as she spits them out. Something tells us this will lead off the next mixtape Selena sends to Justin Bieber. [Listen Here]

5. ‘Set Me Free (Feel My Pain)’
A tidal wave of happy synths chases away the dark clouds. On this track, Charli tells her lover that she can’t save him and begs him to let her go. By way of the blood coursing through her veins, he can feel her pain until the moment he releases his grip. Breathtaking. [Listen Here]

6. ‘Grins’
This track first surfaced on the 2012 ‘Heartbreaks and Earthquakes’ mixtape, and ‘Grins’ is finally able to spread its glorious wings with the release of ‘True Romance.’ When she’s not “falling through the clouds,” she is in heaven dancing with you.

6. ‘So Far Away’
A sample apparently ripped straight from Washed Out’s ‘Portlandia’ theme song (‘Feel It All Around’) sets the mood for this dreamy track, where she sings, “I can’t believe all the things that you said / You are the poison, I drunk the poison.” Hopefully, Charli will keep these words in mind when the inevitable hipster backlash occurs after this album sells big.

7. ‘Cloud Aura’
On this holdover from Charli’s ‘Super Ultra’ mixtape, guest rapper / stripper Brooke Candy attempts to up the hip-hop proceedings with a rhyme that’s caught in the sonic ether between Lady Sovereign, M.I.A. and Alvin the Chipmunk. When Charli spits out her own verses at the end, it’s clear that the sour-mouthed Candy is outgunned. [Listen Here]

9. ‘What I Like’
Has Charli found true love? Or as she calls it, “Some husband and wife s—.” Like Missy Elliott before her, Charli proves she can do double duty, showing she’s just at hot on the mic as a rapper as she is a singer. She describes this club friendly, s-bomb filled banger much better than we can: “This s— is super wild / This s— is super cool / This s— is kinda gangster / I think I’m into you.”

10. ‘Black Roses’
Another deep ’80s track offers the flip side of Book of Love’s ‘I Touch Roses.’ Over a fuzzy synth bed, Charli sings, “I’m falling victim to black roses.” Even though we love Charli’s gothic beauty, we promise to only shower her with colorful wildflowers. [Listen Here]

11. ‘You’re the One’
On this undead monster of a smash hit, Charli’s inner Siouxsie finally emerges to chant a verse, before an absolutely joyous chorus kicks in: “You’re the one who can make me stay / You’re the only one who can make me feel this way.” Even though the song is about giving into love, it ends with her dancing in the dark. Alone? We hope not. [Listen Here]

12. ‘How Can I’
“My hands are frozen into chains behind my back, so please don’t swallow down the key.” Charli gets her Danielle Dax on in this hypnotic showcase. “How can I fix what I f—ed up?” Darling, nothing is broken. This track is perfect.

13. ‘Lock You Up’
The album ends on a bright note, with Charli singing, “There are so many things left to say.” Over a crisp, Animotion-esque, electro collage, she finally reveals her cards — she’s as into you as you are to her: “I want to lock you up inside my heart.” We feel the same way.

As a whole, ‘True Romance’ sits alongside Robyn‘s ‘Body Talk’, Lily Allen‘s ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’, Britney Spears‘ ‘Femme Fatale’ and Girls Aloud‘s ‘Tangled Up’ as one of the most exciting dance-pop records of the past 10 years.

Added Note: Charli XCX fans who plunged for ‘True Romance’ on CD might be unaware they could be sitting on treasure beyond the gorgeous black & white images in the album booklet.

When we loaded the disc into our hard drive, we were ushered to exclusive bonus content that includes all of her videos and four free remix downloads. These four remixes are different from the 12 remixes included with the U.K. deluxe edition.

Thank you Ms. XCX for the tasty easter egg treasures.

Popcrush readers: Did you buy a Charli XCX CD? If so, did you receive the same songs or different ones? We have no idea how long these special tracks will be available, so all we can say is grab ‘em while you can!

14. You (Ha Ha Ha) (Melé Remix)

15. Nuclear Seasons (Night Plane Remix)

16. You (Ha Ha Ha) (Lindstrom Remix)

17. You’re The One (Deadboy Remix)

‘True Romance’ is available globally at fine record stores, iTunes and Amazon.

Watch the Charli XCX ‘What I Like’ Video

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