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Charli XCX-True Romance
on 2 March 2014
I was supposed to love this, capital "L". All of the descriptors that floated around Charli's music on various media sources-dark, catchy, atmospheric, gothic, electronic-seemed like they were hand picked from my internal checklist. Her album made year end lists. Popjustice and Muumuse, two sites that I usually find reliable with this sort of thing, praised it into high heavens. I decided to take a chance on True Romance, having done so a few times in the past and finding the risk well worth it. This time round though, I wasn't as lucky: in my opinion this is, at best, a fairly average debut.
There's no big, fundamental flaw with this record that seeps into everything and makes the album crumble apart; rather, it's the small bits that pick away at it and take away from the enjoyment. For one thing, in spite of only two songs clocking in at over 4 minutes and the whole thing being a scant 47 minutes long, I find it oddly laborious to listen to the whole set in one go. It certainly starts off promising, with three of the first four tracks being immensely likeable and interesting. "Take my hand" is probably my favourite, with its ecstatic synth stabs and giddily percolating effects higlighting Charli's euphoria, but "Stay away" is not far behind, a dark, brooding piece with ominous metallic percussion, a true melancholic highlight. But, somewhere near the mid point, there's a noticeable dip in quality, and by the time the last three cuts (among the strongest of the bunch) come around, it's far too late to salvage the mission. There's great stuff here-about half of the tracks are pretty awesome. The rest? Not so much. Charli's voice is fine enough: the anguish in the pre-chorus of "Set me free" is almost palpable, the echoing parts in "Grins" are heavenly, the sweetness in her voice in the closer "Lock you up" undeniable. But, more often than not, she insists on delivering her lyrics in a hushmouthed, half-spoken half-sung style that often leaves the words unintelligible. The transitions between her different vocal styles can be very jarring, and the murky, fuzzy production sometimes ends up swallowing everything up into a thick, cluttered mess that makes it hard to appreciate any of the song's elements on their own. My worst offenders on this record in general are "So far away", which just limps unimpressively from start to finish, and "What I like", which has a brief intro that is far more interesting than the entirety of the rest of the song.
I'm not trying to savage True Romance, nor am I against the artist in any way. Charli XCX is still very young, and this is her debut. It's pleasant enough pop, it's catchy, and when it hits the mark, it can be quite wonderful. But, as far as her status as "the next big thing" and media hyperboly are concerned, I'm not sold. It's not great, it's not horrible, it's just OK, and not really my cup of tea at that.