Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sucker | Charli XCX


★★★☆☆

Those who asked why English singer-songwriter Charli XCX was not already a mainstream megastar in 2013 must be very happy with her career path this year. After repeatedly discrediting her attachment to last year's "I Love It," the party anthem she penned and gave away to Swedish duo Icona Pop, Charli XCX embraced her hit collaboration with Iggy Azalea on "Fancy" and her own cutesy "Boom Clap" from the soundtrack of The Fault in Our Stars. The singles peaked at numbers one and eight, respectively, on the Billboard Hot 100 over the summer. Her surge in popularity came at exactly the right time, as she spent the past months gearing up for the release of the sophomore major-label album, Sucker.

On her last album, True Romance, Charli tied the melodrama of high school heartbreak and electrifying synthpop with promising, but not outstanding, results. Her newfound taste of true mainstream success has added an edge to her personality as she transitions to a bratty wannabe-delinquent, which in turn creates a sonic direction that encases rock undertones and heavy guitars in her established gritty synthpop sound. From shouts of "Fuck you, sucker!" in the title track to the proclamation of "I don't want to go to school, I just want to break the rules" in the album's second single, Charli aims to become the creator of the next immature teen anthem à la Alice Cooper's "School's Out." Elsewhere, she still sounds like a typical moody tyke as she thinks that she could die happily after "going hard with all of my friends" in "Die Tonight" and brings proud smirks of "I hate your friends and your family, too, so breaking up was easy to do" in "Breaking Up."

She may have potentially reversed her musical age in some ways, but influences of her first tastes of fame are even apparent from new song titles: "Famous" and "London Queen" automatically come to mind. For "Famous," Charli paired up with mega-producer Greg Kurstin (see: Lily Allen's Sheezus and Sia's 1000 Forms of Fear) to craft a killer pop-rock hybrid about crashing parties and (already fulfilled) dreams of being a superstar, while the latter is a '80s rock dream come true for XCX as she shouts "I never thought I'd be living in the USA / Doing things the American way / Oi, oi, oi." Unsurprisingly, Charli's hit love-gushing pop track "Boom Clap" is an awkward outlier on the rough-edged Sucker, but the light-sounding "Caught in the Middle" sits at second place in the race for the most unfitting song award. The latter track hugs the sound of True Romance and could easily be tailored to radio airplay needs.

Fortunately for Charli, her nearest young contemporaries have left ample room for her to experiment with her sound without stepping on any toes. In comparison to the works of others in her age demographic, this album is filled to the brim with grimy, rough, guitar-filled tracks that will make Sky Ferreira green with envy, but utilizes bratty lyrical handiwork that will make Lorde cringe. It's a niche that suits her well now, but the immature antics and teenage state of mind aren't likely to hold her over forever; so far, keeping that formula has only worked for Avril Lavigne. From last year to this year, Charli XCX has gone from a melodramatic poet to a young punk-rock rebel, which seems a bit extreme. We already knew that the album would be punk-inspired, but we had no idea that the attitude of her new rocker role models would impact her personality, and her sound, so heavily.

Sucker will be released on December 15, 2014 under Asylum Records and Atlantic Records. The album can be streamed in full on iTunes Radio First Play now.

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