They seem to come at us in waves, the good-looking pop females..and often it’s evident that they just like dressing up and being filmed and photographed & / or they just wanna be famous….with the actual music being some way down the list of priorities, BUT ! every now and again there is a lot more behind the visual attractiveness, shapeliness and sheer front. Last time really was Lady Gaga. Forget the horror-film makeup, stacked heels, camp male dancers and gammon togs – here was a good singer, a great composer and adept keyboard player. Acknowledging this when reviewing her debut album, ahead of the pack I said I felt she probably had staying power. Although her over-synth-soaked pop singles releases get worse over time and the shocking effect wanes, I could never have foreseen the absolutely splendid pairing with the ace singer Tony Bennett that she achieved off last year. On the duo’s album release Lady G showed herself to be playful, tuneful and totally in tune with the spirit of the project, aided of course by top musicians and colourful arrangements. Bennett jokingly pleaded with us, his rapt London audience last year to buy the record as ‘she needs the money’ !…
And now Charli XCX has managed to make an album that has spirit in spades and a songwriting style that is at once traditionally tuneful but artfully produced and going by live footage with her female band, punchily delivered in the grooves AND on stage. How welcome is this ?? A homegrown act that hits home with an album release rich in snappy and future singles and an ambience on determination that is not cold but fiery……
A Kraftwerk style tease intro gives way to the stomping title cut, not too shouty and catchy as anything. ‘Do you get me now?’ Charli coos and you sense she will make sure you do. Adultic lyrics, as our Glenn would call them, beware. Next up is hit ‘Break The Rules’ the great rebellion-celebration and as feisty as dear Vincent Furnier’s ‘Schools Out’. I really like the acoustic guitar passage.
At this point I do wonder if Charli’s template for this spiky electric inyerface rockin’ pop is Brazilian outfit CSS…if I get the chance I’ll ask her ( we are going to a date on the UK tour). ‘London Queen’ has echoes of X-Ray Spex in its delivery, but has she ever heard them? maybe not.
A funkier, sloppier sound pervades ‘Gold Coins’ and this is maybe the best vocal on the record ; ‘Boom Clap’ hits the stomp button again, throatier singing and subtle instrumentation, the keys could be less monochrome to fatten the arrangement, but that a minor production carp.
On ‘Doing It’ Charli gets a superb duetting performance out of Rita Ora and it’s a fine pop single, fitting in here well at the halfway point of the running order. That CSS feel jumps up again on the erotic pounder that is ‘Body Of My Own’, on the topic of,,er, self-reliance,
Other highpoints here are the chattering smack of ‘Famous’ and the superior lyrical roll of ‘Hanging Around’, not helped by the sluggish tempo though, to be frank. The excellent plaintive ‘Caught In The Middle’ which I reckon to be the best cut on this set and one during which Charli could feature her players if she was so minded..sometimes a number is right for a smoking /improvisation on stage, ‘Need Ur Love’ cries out for guest spot by CeeLo Green..just a suggestion. ‘Red Balloon’ nicks the chords from ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ but has its charm.
I doubt we’ll hear a more punchy pop dance album this year, congratulations are in order!