John Preston reviews Charlie XCX’s newest mixtape, and likes what he hears. Mostly.
Charli XCX can’t keep very still for long it seems. After the spot-on, dream synth-pop of her debut and then the uneven riot-girl guitars of sophomore album Sucker, she released a brilliant and often jarringly experimental EP last year and has kept relatively on theme with Number 1 Angel, her third mixtape, which continues with her PC-music obsession.
Nothing on Number 1 Angel is as arch and divisive as the four tracks that featured on Vroom Vroom, which now seems to have been a suck-it-and-see test to establish how far she could go with a music trend that many consider to be a pretentious in-joke. SOPHIE only reappears here twice as producer, but his sidekick A.G.Cook and Charli XCX hunkered down and recorded these 10 new tracks over a short period when the artist was feeling depressed. And that’s the most surprising thing about this collection – that it’s not all blueberry-sparkle bubble gum and techno-bling rainbows.
Number 1 Angel doesn’t feature previous single ‘After the After Party’ and contains no interludes, or unoriginal or older material like many mixtape releases. How it differs from Charli XCX’s ‘proper’ album, allegedly coming later this year, is anyone’s guess, but judging by the material XCX has previewed live (‘Bounce’, ‘Girls Night Out’, ‘Taxi’), none of which feature here, it will be in tone, both musically and thematically. Half of the tracks are darkly sombre and lean more towards urban trap productions than PC music’s heightened euro-pop come industrial electro influences. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it doesn’t always work.
Opener ‘Dreamer’, which features Starrah and previous collaborator Raye, plods where it should punch and ‘Blame It on Me’ suffers from a dourness that fails to engage. ‘White Roses’ is macabre and hard to remember and it’s only on the sharp-edged and, eventually, banging and demented ‘Drugs’ (featuring sublime house artist ABRA) that the impact one expects from XCX is fully felt.
The remainder of Number 1 Angel is a consistent crowd-pleaser. PC music is often fronted by female singers who are anonymous and intentionally blank – this is where Charli XCX succeeds in interjecting personality into a genre that has been accused of sexism with boys-club ideals. On the lolloping, mid-tempo, hatcow-bell clang of 80s revival track ‘Babygirl’, XCX delivers brilliantly naff raps and resurrects Uffie (‘Pop the Glock’) from the dead in a feature that is mercifully short, and not very sweet.
‘Roll With Me’ has manic, old-skool house synths, saucer-eyed yelps and ‘yeah-a-yeahs!’, and is delirious with energetic fun. ‘ILY2’ and ‘Emotional’ are more sensitive but just as irresistible. The SOPHIE produced, oral-sex centred ‘Lipgloss’ is euphoric with squeaky, rubbery synths that are both synthetic and sordid with a ludicrous and hysterical guest rap from internet star CupcakKe.
Number 1 Angel is ultimately much more than a mixtape and will probably end up being the dark and twisted little sister to Charli XCX’s main party girl, with both playing equally essential parts. Bring them on.