Saturday, October 19, 2013

Charli XCX: True Romance (2013)


(Atlantic)

"How can I fix what I fucked up?" is the mantra of True Romance, a surprisingly raw and bleeding examination of wrecked relationships, bad nights and occasional bliss that marks the full-length debut of Charli XCX, a glittery pop-disco queen who could better be described simply as a singer-songwriter; these songs revolve around direct unadorned emotional expression and, as with the concurrent Heartthrob by Tegan and Sara, the synthpop throwback sound and insistent beat is really incidental to the singing and lyrics, which are routinely inspired.

Unfortunately, whereas Heartthrob augments its tension and despair with genuinely graceful melodies and throttling hooks, much of True Romance simply whips in and out of the room inconspicuously. The songs are well-written but often slower, it seems, than they should be. The record opens and closes at its strongest; "Nuclear Sessions" is a wildly eccentric bow, and "Lock You Up" marries the generally dour mood with a towering, angsty body-music glory that most easily calls back to the O.M.D. and Siouxie and the Banshees numbers that likely inspired the album as a whole. There are fun moments scattered here and there, like the bouncy hip hop-flavored "Cloud Aura," but it's most effective on those rare occasions when Charli seems to be having a blast, which happens less often with her perfectly assured vocals than those moments when she lapses into spoken-word murmurs, the breathy confessions of a confusion we all know in which feeling bad is almost as necessary as feeling good.

There's not a bad cut here, and nothing overstays its welcome. The entire album is intriguing, even brilliant at times, and this is clearly a smart and resourceful artist -- but in general, it just seems too polite to hit as hard as we'd like.

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