Every now and then you come across an album that just compels you to write about it. The current pop music scene is filled with new artists (Olivia Rodrigo, Dua Lipa), established artists branching out from their main project (Hayley Williams), and the household names (Adele, Lady Gaga). Charli XCX was one of those artist I heard name-dropped a few times along the way of navigating through the wave of pop artists that were out there, but I discovered Crash by Charli XCX pretty late in the game (nearly a month after the initial release date) and I was immediately drawn into the world that this artist brings forth on the dynamic, smash of a record. Armed with a plethora of A-list producers, including The 1975’s George Daniel (among many others), Charli XCX could’ve gone in a number of directions on her fifth studio album. Much like how Dua Lipa set the world on fire the last two years with Future Nostalgia, Crash has that feeling of being the “it” pop record that could garner the same amount of momentum on radio and word of mouth.
Kicking off the set with the title track, Charli XCX shouts off rhythmic vocals as she explains, “I’m about to crash into the water / Gonna take you with me / I’m high voltage, self-destructive / End it all so legendary.” It’s almost as if this artist is grabbing the listener’s attention, whether they like it or not, and not giving it up until the final notes are played. The track features some great pop sheen and electric guitar to set the scene of the album. “New Shapes” follows the speedy opener with some great synths that explode out of the gate with purposeful energy. In the opening verse, Charli admits, “I don’t know why I got a tendency to run away / Don’t know why I’m always pushing for a sweet escape / Even though I feel so close / I just can’t control how I feel / And I gotta be free / Need to breathe / But sometimes I need,” and begins to put together more of the puzzle found on Crash.
The lead single “Good Ones” follows, and ends up being one of the strongest songs in the set that is filled with gem after gem. The song itself features a great, pulsating bass line as Charli’s vocals send it into the stratosphere of pop bliss. From the opening lyrical lines of, “I wish you gave me, a reason / That you were better, at leavin’ / That you got your kicks from seeing me low / I always let the good ones go,” she captures that nostalgic spirit of early 90’s pop, with just enough modern twists to make it feel like she’s adding something new that feels familiar to our ears.
Other early songs like “Beg For You” find Charli XCX at her most passionate and vocally capable as she belts on the chorus, “Oh, don’t you leave me this way /Won’t you wait another hour or two? / You know I need you to stay / Don’t make me beg for you / ‘Cause I’ll beg for you.” And she lets the listener into her headspace on more vulnerable songs like “Move Me,” as she weaves a tangled web of relationship woes. The second verse is compelling as she sings, “Call it what you want, I got a habit for destruction / Take all of your trust and then betray it like it’s nothing / Yeah, I think it’s in my soul, the way I run from something real and leave you wondering / Why I can’t surrender, give you everything I got and let you know.” Her ability to wear her heart on her sleeve while allowing her listeners to dance along to every fallen tear makes for a thrilling, albeit heartbreaking listening experience.
”Baby” is pure 80’s dancehall bliss with repetitious lyrics built over a disco-infused beat that finds the artist gaining confidence steadily over the song. It’s one of the sexier songs she has released to date, and she makes yet another club-ready anthem in this set to add to a DJ’s delight. The more reflective “Lightning” rocks vulnerably until a vocoder on the chorus allows for a Lady Gaga-esque power anthem about losing control in the “game of love” comes to the forefront. It’s another one of those songs that sounds like a million bucks from its first gripping listen, and takes the audience along for the ride for every beat.
Other songs towards the end of the set like “Every Rule” battle with the complexities of being infatuated with more than one person at a time. It sounds like a great 80’s-esque power ballad, and the pre-chorus of, “And we know that it’s wrong, but it feels real fun / Sneaking around, falling deep in love / But sometimes I get scared / ‘Cause I know it’s unfair / I’m hurting someone else instead,” is as catchy as it is heart-wrenching. It’s the only “true ballad” on this album filled with dance floor-ready anthems, and yet it never feels out of place in the sequencing or context of the story she’s telling on Crash. “Yuck” on the other hand, gets back to the pop bliss that Charli excels at, and she sings over a beat that even Mariah Carey would be jealous she didn’t get to sing over. And “Used To Know Me” finds this pop star at her most interesting and compelling as she sings on the bridge, “I’m like a flower blooming / Since I left you behind / Don’t know what I was doing / Thought your venom was divine / Knew you were turning evil / You said I lost my mind / No you ain’t gon’ do me like that,” in another great woman’s power anthem of independence.
Closing out the standard edition of the album with “Twice,” Charli XCX reminds the listener that she’s just a playlist away as she cooly sings, “Nothing is forever / Lucky to remember / Stay up in the moment / All night, all night, yeah.” The mid-tempo song is a nice way of ending this chapter of her career as she continues to hit the right groove in her growth as an artist. The deluxe edition of the record was released shortly after the standard release, and included four additional songs that ranged from the vulnerable (“Sorry If I Hurt You,” “Selfish Girl) to headphone bliss (“What You Think About Me”) to further prove the point that Charli XCX is at the top of her game on Crash.