Charli XCX – “3AM”/”Drugs”/”Dreamer”/”Babygirl” Review
Charli XCX is certainly enjoying herself between albums. In 2016 she toyed with PC Music on the Vroom Vroom EP and she’s kicked off the new year with a mixtape that blends the fads of today (PC, Trap) with the fashion of yesteryear (glossy 90s R&B, bratty pop) while she hangs out with heroes (Uffie) and friends alike (MØ). Number 1 Angel is a mixed bag in the best possible way: a smorgasbord of satisfying hooks and melodies reward the listener for cossetting Charli as she plays sonic dress up and indulges her every creative whim.
Unsurprisingly, many of the tracks on Number 1 Angel have an underdeveloped and tossed off feel, as if Charli has been vibing in the studio to hip hop beats rather than trying to hammer out A-grade material. Despite this fact, the Londoner has a remarkable ability to serve up big polished pop with plenty of gaudy character (albeit with a noticeably more adult bent this time out). This is good news for those that feared the singer’s infatuation with PC Music would see her brazen personality and ebullient charisma repressed in favor of anodyne and anonymous childlike vocals. Instead, Charli screams “go fuck yourself” on “3 AM (Pull Up)” and never looks back. Better still, it seems like producer AG Cook is prepared to evolve too, by trying to merge PC Music’s garish loops and thudding bass into forms that suit more detailed songwriting and less gimmicky arrangements.
Rather than reviewing the mixtape in full – it is designed to be dipped in and out of at will – 411 is going to check in on some of the stand out cuts and most intriguing moments: starting with the affore mentioned “3AM (Pull Up)”.
Teaming up MØ, Charli teases the audience with the dolphin cry of an EDM automaton, before dipping into a stickier and more seductive timbre. Despite alluding to 90s dance, the beat is a raw sugar smack: a taut bassline carries the song forward as Charli flicks between girlish euphoria and frank reflections on a bad break-up. In truth, “3AM” could do with more song and less hook: sure it’s playful and addictive, but the track spends so long burrowing its way into the listener’s subconscious, it misses the opportunity to really hit home emotionally. [7.0]
“Drugs” is more intriguing by comparison. Charli has always been a party girl (I first saw her at a warehouse party when she was 16), but this is the first time she’s presented a more complex image of narcotics. Rather than raving, XCX is confessing: “It hurts but I can’t stop”. This is a murky love letter to her dealer, but not one written from the position of an equal – she’s a slave being dragged down, not lifted up, by MDMA and cocaine respectively.
The bass growls with a predatory menace, corrupting the innocence of XCX’s typically sparkly sonics; as the chorus approaches Charli assumes a familiar position, she sticks her head out the sunroof, but rather than bellowing with rebellious glee, she’s dead eyed as she drones “baby you’re the love of my life” [8.5]
Kicking off the mixtape is “Dreamer”, which catches Charli in a more anodyne mood. Here the popstar tries on some hip hop enunciation over monolithic throb of deep bass and some futuristic zips, squelches and chimes. The resulting effect borders on the cringe worthy, but suits her well enough. She manages to get away with the shameless appropriation by attacking the song with the brain-dead, carefree, party girl bravado that’s carried her best material. This isn’t parody or cluelessness; this is fun, plain and simple. When Charli snottily asks, “this party is kind of shit, shall we dip, in your whip?” – there is only one answer: hell fucking yes! [7.0]
Finally, we finish our round up with “Babygirl”, which she’s Charli teaming up with French pop revolutionary Uffie to trade sex rhymes. As the title suggests, this is a leering dose of infantilized sexuality that flits between the uncomfortably adolescent digital sex of PC Music and the sumptuous R&B of Mariah Carey. The blend is both intoxicating and abhorrent. Sexy and deeply disquieting at the same time, “Babygirl” sees strident sexpertise intertwine with submission and feigned naivety. The true triumph of the track lays in XCX’s ability to conjure three distinct and delectable deliveries. The possibilities, it would seem, are endless for her forthcoming LP. [7.0]
Further Listening: If you like what you’ve heard check out the sticky sex rhymes of cunnilingus love-in “Lipgloss”, the stately “White Roses” (a sensual slowee) and the loveable muddled “IL2” which features a thrilling blast of Sleigh Bells style star guitar.