Album Reviews

Charli XCX – Brat

(Atlantic) UK release date: 7 June 2024

A paean to dance culture and their maker’s own history and influences, these songs find common ground in their sincerity

Charli XCX - BRAT Charli XCX is frequently referred to as a strange aberration, who straddles multiple genres, most notably pop, and club bangers whilst sprinkling her output with a handful of alternative glitter and grime. There’s some truth to this, of course; she’s frequently made music that possesses a wilful approach that rejects the mainstream. That said, her last album, 2022’s Crash, was a definite flirtation with pop stardom and cliché. Naturally, it was all done with Charli’s unique approach, but even that was dialled down considerably. The result was an album that had a sheen that didn’t feel quite right, at least not within Charli’s canon. Not that many cared particularly, as the album became her biggest selling and most successful to date. Charli cared though, and has since stated that she finds some of the material on Crash hard to deal with.

So, where next? Rather than continue down a route that could easily make her a bone fide pop star, Brat swerves off in a different direction. It might not be what those who loved the blatant commercial nature of Beg For You or Yuck would envisage or even want, but it’s fairly evident that Charli doesn’t much care. Brat draws a line in the sand and turns its back on easily consumable pop. Instead, as the track Club Classics makes clear, this is all about emotion, abandon, and dancing till the sweat pours, dries out, and provides a hazy reminder that last night was epic, if only you could remember it. It serves as a statement of intent, that this is the kind of music that Charli wants to make. Two Step? Get that in there. Fancy nodding towards Aphex Twin and Warp? Done. This is music made with little, if anything, in the way of compromise. If sometimes it’s hard to grasp or understand, tough.

Brat is, in some ways, an album that takes the dancefloors of the late 1990s and early 2000s as its inspiration. It also veers in mood considerably, feeling at times euphoric, it taps into chemically assisted highs, relentless confidence and sweat drenched parties. There is of course a downside, and alongside these intense rushes are the twitchy, nervous lows, the insecurities and crushing doubt. As such, you’ll find the name dropping Club Classics (which insists that Charli wants to dance to AG Cook, SOPHIE, Hudson Mohawke and er… herself) which thunders with squelching beats and drive, rubbing up alongside Sympathy Is a Knife, a song that oozes with paranoia and a lack of control.

On Rewind, a stripped back and erratic backbeat lets her vocals breathe as she explores a yearning for simpler times, regretting having called the paparazzi on herself, pondering on whether she deserves commercial success, and assessing her body shape. It’s a perfect encapsulation of how the commercial machine alters perception and artistic endeavour. Everything Is Romantic juxtaposes beautiful snapshots of Italian getaways with cheapened religious iconography, aged skin, and the hopelessness of falling in love. At times it drifts lightly, at others, it rattles with skittering beats. It feels confused, and not quite sure about just what it wants.

This is, of course, what sits of the heart of Brat. This is not pop star neurosis dressed up in beats and catchy, auto-tuned vocals, this is the uncertainty of life laid bare. It is no coincidence that sat at the heart of these songs is So, I which is dedicated to SOPHIE, one of Charli’s collaborators and friends, who sadly passed away in 2021. It is heartfelt and touching, filled with guilt, reflection and a lot of love, dealing as it does, in part, with Charli’s own self-doubt surrounding their relationship. One of the criticisms often levelled at electronic music is that it lacks heart, but So, I is one of the most emotive songs you’re likely to hear this year.

The changes in tone, mood and direction are almost constant throughout the length of Brat. But that’s how life is sometimes. One minute you can be top of the world and the next at the bottom of an existential crisis. The Charli inhabiting brash album highlight and early single Von Dutch for example is full of swagger and hype, with statements like “I’m your number one, it’s so obvious”, and claiming that she’s some kind of fantasy. Admittedly there’s an element of wind-up on show here, but none the less, it still possesses an assuredness that is entirely infectious.

At the other end of the scale is I Think About It All The Time, which reflects on the ticking clock that artists experience when balancing career against starting a family. There’s a genuine fear of missing out on the experience of being parent, but there’s also the worry about the effect that it might have on her freedom. That she follows this up with closing track 365, which documents life as a coke fuelled party animal suggests that the clock still has a few minutes to go.

Where all these songs find common ground is in their sincerity, the IT girl stomp of opening track might have its tongue firmly in its cheek, but there’s a clarity of thought that is also found in the openness and the vulnerability of the likes of So, I. Brat is a paean to dance culture and Charli’s own history and influences. But most importantly, it’s probably this complex artist’s most honest and direct work to date.

buy Charli XCX MP3s or CDs
Spotify Charli XCX on Spotify

More on Charli XCX
Charli XCX – Brat
Charli XCX – Crash
Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now
Charli XCX – Charli
Charli XCX – Sucker