Crash - Charli XCX
Reviewed by @superultra
shines in all its sleek glossiness, but—much like the bloodied album covers—Charli’s heart spills all over its best tracks. Despite her Main Pop Girl Sellout™ ambitions, this album has traces of her signature, avant-garde flair and thoughtful, heartbreaking moments. She reveals much about herself and her vices throughout, providing a candid affair underneath that ‘80s, high-glam sheen.
serves as one of two thesis statements that drives the album forward, much like "Next Level Charli" guided her self-titled affair. "Crash" takes her affinity for half-rapped spoken word and juxtaposes it with new jack swing, which sounds great on her. The track and its guitar solo flirt with an industrial sound, reminiscent of "If" by Janet (thee
ultimate example of industrial and new jack swing). Throughout the track, Charli frames her self-destructive tendencies as iconic, immediately tying together the visuals and lore of her being pop’s resident bad girl into her lyricism.
(in all its Human-League-meets-early-Janet glory) sees Charli, Caroline, and Redcar (fka Christine and the Queens) pushing for a less-suffocating, more-liberating love. Being met with resistance from their lover(s), they pull away and insist that this is not what they want.
The era’s lead single, “Good Ones,”
clocks out too soon, but lyrically it does work to introduce the themes of the album and prepare us for what to expect: short, punchy songs that detail Charli’s warped sense of romance and self. I love a good song about an artist craving bad boys, and Charli’s got loads of those (“Blame It on U” being among the most prominent). As fun as it is frustratingly short, “Good Ones” is a literal hit-and-run.
gives breakbeat and garage vibes throughout. I'm glad she further explored breakbeat, garage, and 2-step after "i finally understand" and "detonate." Furthermore, “Constant Repeat” possesses some of the best, sharpest lyrics on the album. "When you're lonely, are you ever thinking 'bout the magic in me?" grips me by the throat. She asserts herself well over this beat, knowing her worth despite being fumbled by the guy she sings about.
The original “Beg for You”
gets consumed by its sample and possesses uninspired production—reasons why I’m a fervent supporter of the superior A. G. Cook remix. He made the production more interesting and true to Charli's style. Plus, it helps sell the sample rather than emphasize its derivative use. (I’m having flashbacks to “1999” and the EASYFUN remix right now.) Rina Sawayama’s rich tone manages to provide a breath of fresh air and perspective on both the original track and the remix. I only wish she had more vocals on the track!
reminds me of the work that BJ Burton did on both how i'm feeling now
by BANKS, as well as Timbaland's atmospheric production on FutureSex/LoveSounds
. While Charli's voice strikes me as shriller than usual on this one, the lyrics manage to arrest me and endear me to the track. Of all the tracks, this one feels indebted to mid-2000s, Timbaland-esque R&B, but I like this sound on her! She should explore this more. (It reminds me of the "Breathe Out" demo that she recorded and sadly never released for how i'm feeling now
.) “Move Me” stands as one of the album’s most underrated moments.
is so slinky (and manages to be one of the few songs on the album with a bonafide bridge/middle-8). Charli owns her carnal desires on this disco- and funk-inspired track, something that ties this song to the likes of Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” and Janet’s best, naughtiest moments from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
If you’ve seen me in the Charli thread, you know I rave over "Lightning"
every chance I get. The snippet she previewed on TikTok Live last year really does not prepare you for that insanely propulsive chorus. It's moody, romantic, and easily the most fleshed-out song on the entire album. After all, it has the longest track length of them all. It serves as a natural progression of her fascination with dark walls of synths, '80s new wave, glitchy pop, and tortured love affairs. Some of the best vocal effects (and vocal takes from this era period) happen in this song. (A far cry from the struggle vocals in "Beg for You.") It's also one of the few tracks that has a breakdown/bridge, so let's celebrate that.
made me realize that Charli always has a song about creeping around on a significant other. Since the album’s release, I haven’t returned to this much despite its soft, lush soundscape, but the lyrics do support the album’s themes and add to the cohesion. The lyrics serve as a gorgeous, morally dubious, self-aware yet self-indulgent moment of storytelling. She’s no angel, but we been knew that!
still sends the fuck out of me. The hook’s lyrics strike me clunky compared to the fun wit of the first verse's lyrics. The contrast between "All these butterflies make me sick / Hocus pocus shit, I'm bewitched" and "Looking at me all sucky (?) / Quit acting like a puppy" jarred me. I'll give her a slight pass because of "puppy love" being an appropriate idiom here, though. Overall, it's a punchy, late-night, funk-influenced affair about being turned on and off at the same time. It reminds me of Doja, The Weeknd, and Tinashe's funkiest, most disco-adjacent moments. It also deserved to be a single. #JusticeforYuck
"Used to Know Me"
is a Chromatica-type, '90s-house-inspired track, owing its entire sound to "Show Me Love" by Robin S. However, that same sample has suckered me—no pun intended—into giving the song a chance on many occasions. The lyrics and melody on this one are strong enough, and she manages to hold her own against such an iconic sample. It's brief, though, and it could stand to pop off even more, but I've let it slide since it doesn't shit on the iconic "Show Me Love." Besides, it’s refreshing to hear Charli tell a man to kiss where the sun don’t shine.
serves a great way of combining her hyperpop sound with more tropical, mainstream pop (not unlike "Warm" and "3AM (Pull Up)"). The version of “Twice” premiered during her Bands in Town concert
featured less bubbly and more atmospheric production. However, the album version keeps a consistent, punchy beat before veering into a hazy outro featuring a welcomed key change. The lyrics hearken back to "c2.0." The song plays like a retrospective on her being a sentient car crash. She halts to listen to her mind and her reasoning. She lives fast and impulsively without looking back because she knows that—as she looks to her friends and her future—all of this will one day cease to exist. It almost feels like an ode to the late SOPHIE, especially with its hyperpop leanings, which makes it more of a tearjerker than it already is. Though her self-destructiveness has cost her certain relationships (“Every Rule,” “Sorry If I Hurt You,” and “Good Ones”) and makes her question herself (“How Can I Not Know What I Need Right Now”), she knows it’s led to some of the best moments of her life. Just like “Lightning,” I could wax poetic about this song, as this track has truly helped me make it through this year. It really does touch my soul. It serves as proof that hyperpop is not the “vapid” subgenre that many outsiders dismiss it as. Like any (sub)genre, its sounds can be a vehicle for the most moving, affective lyrics.
Again, if you’ve seen me in the Charli thread, you know that “Selfish Girl”
has become my most-played track of 2022—and for damn good reason! I’d been obsessed with this track before we even knew what it would be! Charli previewed
this track back in January 2020 on her Instagram stories while in the studio with the likes of Deaton Chris Anthony (who helped helm “New Shapes”). Of course, anything before the pandemic feels like a lifetime ago, so it’s a wonderful delight that she not only returned to the song, but also finished it and put it out into the universe (before the fandom could, ddd). The lyrics of “Selfish Girl” really showcase the reality of being a woman/non-man who finally establishes boundaries and a sense of self. We often get labeled as difficult or—in this case—selfish. However, Charli owns that moniker and makes it the backbone of the whole song. She even turns it into a mantra in the middle-8/bridge, a moment I can see being massive at her future concerts. I totally understand where she’s coming from, though, because—if having more rigid boundaries makes me a selfish girl—I’ll gladly be that. Put your hands up if you’re selfish, indeed!
“How Can I Not Know What I Need Right Now”
is a track I never saw coming, especially since I had no idea what to expect from the deluxe tracks. If you told me that Charli would make a sadbanger that would excellently interpolate the hook of “Saturday Love” by Cherrelle and Alexander O’Neal
, I would’ve guffawed. (Now I’m crying.) Not only does this serve as one of the three tracks on the album that really lean into hyperpop (“Twice” and “What You Think…” being the other two), but it also serves as a callback to the anxiety and suffocation that pervaded almost every track of how i’m feeling now
. Besides “Twice,” this song also helped me through the year. It brought (and still brings) some raw feelings to the surface for me as someone who struggles with anxiety. It accurately captures the numbness of going the motions while having a jumble of messy, anxious, intrusive thoughts.
A welcomed callback to the dark-wave melancholia of True Romance
, “Sorry If I Hurt You”
is an onslaught of heartbreak and self-loathing. Charli revealed that she intended for album to be named after this track, given how the word hurt can be past, present, and future tense all at the same time. It pairs amazingly with the actual title track of Crash
, showing the yin-yang of how self-destructive behavior looks cool on paper but has deep consequences in reality.
“What You Think About Me”
ends the deluxe edition of Crash
as a cheeky kiss-off to Charli’s fans who exist as both haters and supporters. Though this track doesn’t get as much love as it deserves, the track excellently combines her pop-rock leanings (a la Sucker
) and her love for hyperpop. The verses also offer nuanced, poignant reflections on standom and having a rabid fanbase that suffocates her with their opinions and criticisms. She also admits to the side of her that lashes out at her fans when the dogpiling becomes too much (“When my blood is boiling, I can’t see the light” / “Wanna prove a point ‘cause it’s in my design”), again tying into the major themes of the album about her impulsive tendencies. “What You Think About Me” ends the album on a confident note of her reclaiming her power through one crass yet simple declaration: “I don’t give a fuck.” That’s Charli, baby.
With the album’s conclusion, I only mourn the lack of bridges/middle eights throughout the album, and I wish the tracks that relied on samples used them in a more clever manner, but "Used to Know Me" manages to not get consumed by its source sample, so it has that advantage over "Beg for You."
“Lightning,” “Selfish Girl,” “How Can I Not Know What I Need Right Now,” “Sorry If I Hurt You,” “Constant Repeat,” and “Twice” stand out as not only the tracks with the best production, but also the best lyricism. They all showcase various shades of Charli—romantic, self-preserving, frantic, confessional, confident, and pensive—and they showcase her excellently.
Of course the tracks with longer durations possess the most interesting soundscapes. However, despite the brevity of the album, it works to her benefit because—without as many features as her previous efforts—Charli has more breathing room to confess her worst impulses and truest desires. She does her best when she spills the contents of her heart instead of chasing after a hit. Furthermore, the great sequencing of the album allow the tracks to flow into one another without being jarring choices.
Overall, Charli serves self-deprecating lyrics that cut deeper than anticipated across high-gloss beats, and she cut deeply enough to make one of my favorite albums of 2022, an album that I find myself frequently enjoying in its entirety. Brava!