Ah, lockdown – the great equaliser. It’s been four hundred and twenty-seven thousand days since Boris Johnson blustered his way into saying that really, maybe, we should have all been staying home for a little while already and man are we bored. Like, really, really fucking bored. Also, if you’re not horny, you’re not paying attention – and if you don’t miss the warm clammy embrace of another human then, at this point, it’s probably safe to brand yourself a hardcore misanthrope, quit paying a London rent, and leave your tiny flat for a yurt with no running water in the middle of the countryside.
This is the sentiment, then, that opens Charli XCX’s multi-layered lockdown masterpiece How I’m Feeling Now. Bouncy synths cut through, down to the core of everyone’s desire, as Charli breathlessly states “I just wanna go real hard/I just wanna go real hard/pink diamond in the dark” and later “Wish you could come round/pick me up in your car”. Well, exactly.
Written, produced and recorded in the past five and a half weeks, Charli announced her newest album on 6 April, over a Zoom call to 1,000 of her lucky fans. Citing a need to keep her mental health on track, the five and a half week end-point was an ambitious goal, and seemed almost impossible for those of us who were still spending most of our time screaming at the walls.
But the thing about How I’m Feeling Now is that it’s Charli doing just that. It’s that electro album that we’ve all dreamed of making one day, from a girl stuck in a mansion in Los Angeles who desperately misses her friends. The result is immersive, experimental, bubble-gum, intense and deep with stunning layers – and echoes the lockdown zeitgeist.
Track two, Forever, opens with a distorted and anxious guitar-synth, and slowly moves into the message we’ve all sent our friends: “I will always love you /I love you forever /even when we’re not together /I know in the future we will see each other”, mimicking those dark and horrible moments where we’ve cried over Houseparty with our best friends about how much we’ve missed each other.
But How I’m Feeling Now isn’t all lust, fear (about the state of the world) and generalised anxiety. In the age of the live-stream club and Zoom rave, Charli offers us some legitimate bangers, with Claws featuring a racing outro drop to be enjoyed with your Alexa lights flashing a rainbow, three bottles of prosecco in, dressed as Carole Baskin (for a reason you’ve forgotten).
This is a vibe continued in Detonate, along with the slow burning lack of physical contact, around four or five layers of sound, and appropriate lyrics: “I’m about to detonate/pull you close and then I’ll be fine.” C2.0, surely a play on CO2, has a vocoder-laden Charli lament all the things we miss, and the vibe continues in Anthems: “I want anthems /my friends /New York /finally when it’s over /we might be closer” perfectly preaches our intentions for the future. We’re not left on a low, however, with Visions being an elegy to Charli’s friendships, the state of the world moving forward, and to hope.
The core of the whole lockdown is this – nothing will ever be the same again. In the weeks and months as we slowly ease ourselves back to real life, our painful, terrified confused screams into the voids of our overpriced housing will fade. In a year we’ll discuss the six to eight months we spent inside at 3am with “Huh, wasn’t that crazy”, as much as the house down the road from me will put their union jack back up and continue their overblown patriotic displays. But for now, we’re united. And this is exactly why we need How I’m Feeling Now. Here then is a cultural landmark, a record of what we’re all going through together, something to show our grand-kittens and, at its core, just a really good record.