She’s only 20, but she already seems like she’s been around forever. At the age of 16, Charlotte Aitchison recorded an album and distributed it to her schoolfriends. Four years later, she’s called herself Charli XCX, has toured with Ellie Goulding and Coldplay and, together with Icona Pop, has recorded one of the hottest singles in the year in the infuriatingly infectious I Love It.
It would have been easy for a record company to rush Charli into a recording studio on the back of her early singles in 2011 and rush-release an album. So it’s to her credit that she’s taken her time to polish up her sound and release a fully-formed record. Whether she’s got enough strong songs to make up a 13 track album is a debatable point, but it certainly sounds the part.
For True Romance sounds huge – big, swirling, epic synth songs with a liberal dose of swearing to keep up the ‘edginess’ quotient. It’s certainly a lot less goth and (shudder) ‘grindie’ than her previously released mixtapes hinted at, but the more mainstream sound suits her well. It’s especially effective on early tracks like the opener Nuclear Seasons, You (Ha Ha Ha) and Stay Away which gives the album a good, punchy start.
Charli has a decent voice, especially on the big choruses like Set Me Free or Take My Hand. And while there’s no instant classics like Jessie Ware‘s Wildest Moments, there’s a likeable and easy-going charm that runs effortlessly through the album. And, now and again, she uncovers a real pop nugget like the excellent You’re The One, which will threaten to take up residence in your brain for months on end.
There are some flaws on True Romance though. As is the usual case with debuts these days, it’s far too long, and there’s at least three tracks here that could have easily been left out. Also, there’s a definite Charli XCX template at work here – the bombastic synths, the half-spoken, half-rapped verses, and then the gear change into the massive chorus. Fair enough that she’s worked out a successful formula, but over the course of a full-length album it becomes a bit repetitive.
The album also tends to flag a bit in the mid-section, with the ode to ‘bad boys’ Cloud Aura being particularly cringeworthy (featuring lyrics like “you were my Chris Brown, I was your only girl”. Yes, really) and the rather dull What I Like. The atmospheric So Far Away rescues things though, with a gorgeous production reminiscent of The Avalanches, and Lock You Up makes for a suitably pretty closer to the album.
There’s much to enjoy on True Romance, although it’s probably best sampled in small doses as it doesn’t hang together that successfully over the course of an album. She certainly makes for one of our more interesting pop stars though, and there’s enough promise displayed on this debut to hint that she could produce something truly special next time around.