Review: Charli XCX – Sucker

Charli XCX

Sucker

[Asylum]

A friend of mine once posited that the music industry can ‘make’ absolutely anybody of their choosing. All it takes is large cash reserves, marketing nous and sheer determination. There’s merit in the argument but amassing universal critical acclaim is less straightforward (well, you’d like to think so, at least). It’s refreshing to see the likes of Jessica Cornish desperately claw for relevance and get largely rejected by those with taste. She’s not about to drop off the radar just yet but three albums down and it’s clear that Jessie J is more consolidated brand than considered artist.

Charlotte Aitchison, also on album number three (albeit technically; 2008’s 14 never saw the light of day), must be judged like any other modern pop star, wannabe or otherwise. There’s – usually – a vast gulf in quality between what dominates the singles charts and what you don’t hear blasting from the phones of teenagers. Charli XCX, however, appeals to both selective blogger and selected broadcaster. She is at once perfect fodder for those who use txt spk to request their favourite song on the myriad of identikit ‘music’ channels and those who consider Pitchfork their bible.

Why? The answer, as Sucker deftly demonstrates, is two-fold. 1) She respects a genre that many who inhabit the more blatantly commercial end of it simply do not. 2) She’s really, really, good at it. Though unquestionably a more carefully constructed body of work than previous exploits, Sucker boasts heart alongside its many hooks. Gleefully unabashed in its wild coming-out party nature, it begins with a flatline before giving away to circus-like histrionics and an ‘I Love It’-esque refrain, though ‘Sucker’ is less likely to grate on you after a handful of listens. In this ‘I’m a riot grrl fuck you lol’ context, ‘Break The Rules’ fares a good deal better than it previously did in isolation but it’s still a fairly by-the-numbers effort and markedly tame in the rebellion stakes in contrast to its more manic predecessor. ‘London Queen’ is a scream, powered by propulsive drums and scratchy guitar not dissimilar to Nine Inch Nails’ divisive ‘Everything’. It is the kind of song that could easily be read as pandering (there’s much blatant eyelash-fluttering in the direction of America) but there’s too much verve to get hung up on anything cynical.

And if it’s verve you crave, ‘Boom Clap’ has it in spades. Arguably the best pop song of 2014 – and a welcome movie tie-in throwback – it sets up the strongest run the record has to offer as it bleeds into current single ‘Doing It’. As usual, the presence of Rita Ora offers absolutely nothing outside of marketing material but she doesn’t get in the way either, so that’s nice. Despite the suggestive title, it’s a pretty wholesome affair, one that taps into infectious frequencies and hits heights in relatively subtle fashion compared to other exploits on the album. ‘Body Of My Own’, for instance, is both more obvious eyebrow-raiser –

“Lights out, I’m on

Got my darkness

I’m into myself, don’t need you

Cause I’m gone, so high

Got my darkness

I’m into myself, don’t need you

Cause I can make it feel just like I’m hanging on

Yeah, I can do it better when I’m all alone

Lights out, so high

All alone

I got a body of my own”

– and more adventurously structured, bouncing about like the soundtrack to a lost Sonic The Hedgehog level. ‘Famous’ follows in suit, catching Aitchison at her most rambunctious.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/185041399" params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166" iframe=”true” /]

As with Sky Ferreira’s superb Night Time, My Time, there’s no real ballads to speak of, no ‘lets showcase her amazing range’ bullshit, just a keen focus on focused pop belters. That said, not everything registers as a gem. The nursery rhyme structures of ‘Hanging Around’ and ‘Die Tonight’ are both familiar and a touch tired, while ‘Caught In The Middle’ has a similar ‘heard it all before’ vibe. The cute ‘Need Ur Luv’ finishes strong in that ‘Remember when Lily Allen showed some promise?’ kinda way but Sucker is guilty of running out of steam before the credits roll. When all systems are go, though, it’s pure pop gold. Charli XCX is a saleable commodity, no doubt, but one worth buying into.

FOUR OUT OF FIVE

You might also like More from author