Charli XCX is back on the dance floor, where she belongs

by Chris Kelly

ON HER best songs, such as “Vroom Vroom” or “Speed Drive,” Charli XCX is in the driver’s seat of something flashy, like a Ferrari, racing through red lights and leaving the competition behind.

Often, the destination is unclear, unknown or unimportant: The point ‒ as it has been whether Chuck Berry had “No Particular Place to Go” or Tracy Chapman was planning the future via “Fast Car” ‒ is the journey.

Until now. On her new album, “Brat,” the 31-year-old singer and songwriter is headed to the site of her artistic inception and the place where she seems most comfortable, the club, with a Serato full of serotonin. And after the ups-and-downs of over a decade in the music industry, it feels like she’s finally home.

If “Brat” is home, then the musician, whose real name is Charlotte Emma Aitchison, is the architect and designer.

Over the years, she has created a personal sphere of influence in pop, both as a songwriter for other stars and a sonic blueprint for an entire sub-genre, hyper-pop, at the mainstream’s margins.

In both the text and roll-out of “Brat,” she’s started to populate that world with a cast of characters such as celebrity muse Julia Fox, who pops up in her music video, DJ set, entourage and lyrics.

“I’m everywhere, I’m so Julia,” Charli sings on “360,” the opening track on “Brat,” and a mission statement: “I’m your favourite reference, baby.”

That’s always been a theme in Charli’s lyrics, where she paints herself ‒ with fake-it-till-you-make-it grandeur ‒ as an icon, as number one, as a fantasy, as an object of obsession and jealousy. But for the first time, she is reckoning with the mental toll of measuring your self-worth through Billboard charts and against industry frenemies, especially when life-and-death intrudes on clubland fantasies.

Throughout “Brat,” the British musician and her producers keep the album from veering across the sonic median, as was often the case on 2019’s “Charli.”

Instead, the album keys in on the dance floor nostalgia of the best songs on 2022’s “Crash,” leaning into mutating synths, wobbly basslines and non-stop percussion drawn from the dance music continuum, especially the genres popularised in the British clubs where she came of age.

These are the sounds and scenes nodded to amid the heart-pumping disequilibrium of “Club Classics,” on which Charli name-drops whose tracks (other than her own) that she wants to hear on a night out: scene-leaders such as A.G. Cook, Hudson Mohawke and Sophie.

Sophie, an iconic and influential dance producer who died in 2021 at 34, gets the spotlight on the moving, “So I.”

Instead of a sentimental paean, Charli interrogates her relationship with her friend and collaborator.

“Would you like this one?” she wonders, “Maybe just a little bit?,” capturing the sense of unanswered questions that accompany grief.

That’s not the only time “Brat” gets personal. On the surprisingly poignant “I think about it all the time,” Charli’s conversational lyrics shift the Fomo from the club to the crib, putting parenthood in perspective: “Should I stop my birth control? Because my career feels so small in the existential scheme of it all.”

While those lyrics show a vulnerable side, Charli is hitting her peak as a proponent of party girl life and times. The bad tattoos and plastic Jesus Christ signs of “Everything is romantic” evoke the songs of Lana Del Rey, if she spent more time in Naples, Italy, than Naples, Florida.

Lana is there again ‒ this time in Charli’s AirPods ‒ on “Mean Girls,” a hands-in-the-air anthem about a coquette with a “razor-sharp tongue stuck to skinny cigarettes”.

Even more evocatively, a French manicured fingertip wipes out cocaine residue on closer “365,” a sinister sister track to “360” that toys with the double meaning of how the tracks “bump” in the night.

By the time the Mortal Kombat synths of “365” fade out, some listeners will be tempted to rewind “Brat” and play it from the top: Another full circle moment for a pop star who has embraced the cult classics ‒ if not best-sellers ‒ on which she’s built her foundation.

Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).

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