Charli XCX branches out into hip-hop in new album

Charli XCX performs live at the VMAs "Artist to Watch" Concert at the Avalon Theatre on Aug. 23, 2014. Justin Higuchi / Flickr

Charli XCX’s latest album, “Number 1 Angel” (2017), is a great cure for post-spring-break blues. The colorful, playful sound could combat the grayest of skies and the dirty slush that characterize late-March Boston weather. There is something about Charli XCX’s sex appeal that can transport an unhappy, cold student in New England to a steamy nightclub in Los Angeles.

If Charli’s previous album, “Sucker” (2014) is about glamour and rock and roll, “Number 1 Angel” ventures into the territories of hip-hop, rap and trap music. It is refreshing to hear Charli branch out and explore, but the style of “Sucker” works better with her sound. None of the tracks on Charli’s latest album quite top the fun of “Break The Rules,” “Boom Clap” and “Doing It.”

“Number 1 Angel” starts with “Dreamer,” a song that demonstrates Charli’s bad-girl attitude, confidence and candor. In addition to singer and rapper Starrah, the track features up-and-coming singer-songwriter Raye. The best moment in “Dreamer” is when Raye raps, “Yeah, this party’s kinda s— / Should we dip in your whip?” This line demonstrates the feminine apathy and arrogance that characterizes “Number 1 Angel.” This notion is reinforced by the title of the song “ILY2,” which reduces a powerful and meaningful phrase (‘I love you too’) to casual chat-speak.

Gwen Stefani’s influence on Charli XCX is clear in “Number 1 Angel.” Both singers have something dry and gravelly behind their voices, which is especially evident in Charli’s “Emotional. Charli XCX contributed to Stefani’s 2016 album, “This Is What the Truth Feels Like,” demonstrating a reciprocal artistic relationship between the singers. “Number 1 Angel” could be considered the cocky and naïve younger sister of “This Is What the Truth Feels Like.”

The featured artists on “Number 1 Angel” were aptly picked. Starrah, Raye, MØ, Uffie, ABRA and cupcakKe form an intimidating musical clique. They add elements of rap and other vocal abilities that complement Charli’s abilities well.

The collaboration with cupcakKe in “Lipgloss” is particularly striking. cupcakKe’s verses are almost too bold, even by Charli’s standards. In the same breath, she raps “Serve you p—- for your lunch, so let me wear a hairnet” and “Yeah, we keep more eyes on us than the show iCarly.” Later, she says, “So sticky, Winnie The Pooh ain’t got shit on this.” The strange meld of raucous sexual imagery and references to children’s television shows is a bit too jarring. Charli’s repetition of the phrase “I keep it sticky icky like lipgloss” is also cringe-worthy.

The use of repetition ventures into irksome territory at some points in the album. For example, in “Babygirl,” Charli sings the line “I’ll be your baby girl, your baby girl” 18 times. The reaction of some listeners may be, ‘Okay, we get it.’ Repetition is sacred to pop music as an art form, and it certainly works well in some cases, such as Rihanna’s “Work” (2016), in which she somehow manages to inject emotion into the simple chant, “Work, work, work, work, work, work.” Unfortunately, Charli’s repetition does not achieve the same mastery.

Overall, “Number 1 Angel” is a bright and fun album, yet it does not offer anything new to mainstream pop music today. While certainly exploring new genres, Charli XCX ends up imitating other artists and trends.


Summary

Although nothing groundbreaking 'Number 1 Angel' is a solid sophomore effort by Charli XCX.

3.5 stars
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