CLASSIC REVIEW: Charli XCX, how i'm feeling now
Updated: Mar 11
There has never been a more perfect time for Charli XCX to release her first completely solo album in this new phase of her career. First of all, she continues to lead the charge (alongside Carly Rae Jepsen) of pop stars who infuse deeply personal and grounded lyrics with ear-grabbing, left field production. She makes internet music for people on the internet, mostly produced by PC Music affiliates. A.G. Cook, Dylan Brady of 100 gecs and B.J. Burton produced the bulk of this project, and their contributions help to continue Charli’s weird winning streak, with lots of glitching, voice loops, sound effects and bombastic instrumentation. While most people are hitting a writer’s block in this quarantine, Charli has someone put together her opus.
The album kicks off with f*ck-Corona anthem “pink diamond”. “I just wanna go real hard/I just wanna go real hard/Pink diamond in the dark” Charli repeats throughout the track. Before the quarantine, this “pink diamond”, this unbridled female energy, was shining at the club. Flirting with boys, dressing up for them, and partying hard was her modus operandi; songs like “Boys” and “No Angel” are good reference points. Quarantine famously made all that impossible, no more partying and no more strange boys. Charli’s impassioned, subdued vocals warp into more deep tones and aggressive shapes, as the crushing beat plods along. It is a perfect encapsulation of how we all feel: frustrated.
From “forever” to “7 years”, Charli turns away from partying and tries to refocus on what else life has to offer. As it happens, Charli has been in a long term relationship since she dropped “Boom Clap”. The album acts almost as a concept album, with each track addressing “how she’s feeling now” regarding this. On “forever”, she is accepting that the break up is happening “I know in the future/We won’t see each other”, but her repetition of “I will always love you/I’ll love you forever” says otherwise. This track rules. On the 100 gecs produced, metallic “claws”, she is reassessing the needs for a breakup. “I like I like I like I like everything about you” Charli’s gecced out voice proclaims. This track also rules. On the conflicted “7 years”, she is spinning oxymorons, “I know that look inside my eyes means always/Even if we fall apart, split two ways”. The pain of ending the relationship after nearly 7 years of dating is equivalent to death on this album, with multiple references throughout to suicide and being in the grave. It’s all very relatable, capturing those hesitant moments before a breakup and their aftermath with laser precision. These three tracks in particular see Charli working at her peak. The melodies and choruses are all memorable on first listen, her beat choice is A1, and her songwriting is better and more personal than ever before.
From “detonate” to “i finally understand”, Charli is reconciling with her choice to stay with her boyfriend. “detonate” is the strongest of the tracks here. “Hurt me, no you won’t hurt me/I’m about to detonate/pull you close and then I’ll be gone”, she sings on the chorus. She is so fragile that she is pushing her boyfriend away, threatening to explode if he gets too emotionally close. The beat is heavenly and fast, with a very dreamy chord progression and vocal loops that are somehow worked into the percussion; it juxtaposes with the harsh, violent lyrics so well. “enemy” and “i finally understand” give increased context and perspective to this “who will break who’s heart” battle that is going on. “enemy” particularly ties in with “detonate”, essentially a song about seeing your lover as your future enemy, forecasting awkward run-ins and not-so-subtle subtweets when the relationship ceases. She knows that even if she chooses to stay with him, he could easily turn around and hurt her and become the victor of the breakup. It’s so petty, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been here many times before.
The segment from “c2.0” to “visions” is the best part of the album. “c2.0” switches focus from boyfriend to friends. While the quarantine and COVID-19 itself is never directly named on the album, the feelings of missing friends and events is potent tracks like “c2.0”. She doesn’t mince words, “I miss them, I miss them, I miss them” she cries out over a half remix/half sequel of the standout Charli posse cut “Click”. This time, there is no clique, and we ALL feel that 😢. This segment really puts the focus on production, with more clipped, looped and warped vocals than ever before. Charli has created a mess for herself by this point, and the production is messy (in a good way) as a result.
“party 4 u” is the most underwhelming track on the album; it sets up the next final two tracks perfectly but the repetition of “party on you” during the chorus wears thin very quickly. “anthems” is the sound of Charli getting her mojo back as a response to the pure boredom from being inside all the time. “I just wanna go to parties/Up high, wanna feel the heat from all the bodies” Through nostalgia for a not-so-distant past, she begins to craft a party in her own mind that helps propel her and the beat forward. It is a vision of a club where everyone is drinking and having fun, but now her boyfriend is there with her, too. “visions” is that vision in song form. Her powerful vocals, still catchy until the final moments, invite us all to close our eyes and look at the “pictures” in our minds. Suddenly, the vocals drop and we are at a club night in the form of an instrumental outro, complete with a transition from one techno banger to another. It is euphoric, a moment of effortlessness and release on an album that is so claustrophobic and emotionally dense. This is the sound of Charli being true to herself in every sense of the world. She loves to party, but she deeply loves her boyfriend. It is through meditation and therapy that we can reach oneness, and this album is exactly that: her lyrics about love and her party-centric production come together as one better than ever before.