Charli XCX’s debut album proper, 2013’s complex and darkly pop-centred True Romance, was critically lauded but criminally underrated, selling few copies. Subsequently co-writing the global monster smash ‘I Love It’ for Icona Pop and then appearing on Iggy Azalea’s one good song and worldwide number 1 song ‘Fancy’, the entertainment industry quickly re-evaluated XCX’s worth and she became a hot commodity. Returning with the single ‘SuperLove’, not included here, which built on the fluorescent electro-rumble of ‘True Romance’, this again resulted in a flop. XCX went away, frustrated by the restrictions placed on her and made a ‘punk-rock’ record. This is not that record, it remains at present unreleased, but Sucker is a by-product of these sessions and is indeed a sonic change of sorts for Charli XCX.
The first half of Sucker works best in establishing a mood that, whilst hardly punk or even riot grrrl, is certainly more assertive than before. The title track, which has the closest associations with the joyously defiant ‘I Love It’, has guitars, girl-group hooks and a chorus which consists mainly of ‘Fuck you! Sucker!’ It doesn’t bounce out of the speakers in the same impulsive and utterly addictive way Icona Pop’s did, but it will sound great live. ‘Break the Rules’ has an interesting take on the musical drop by creating a kind of an anti-drop, the build leads to an oddly underwhelming and rubbery synth noodle that feels like it’s made its way onto the wrong record but there is still enough sneer and kick to make it work. ‘Gold Coins’ is Lily Allen by way of Sleigh Bells, and ‘Boom Clap’ has already demonstrated itself as a clear winner.
One of the more straight-forward pop tracks here has been re-recorded for the long- delayed UK version of the album, and now, ‘Doing It’ is a duet with the oddly unconvincing but very successful Rita Ora. It’s an interesting decision and highlights one of the contradictions of Sucker in that it wants to be anti-industry, edgy and adventurous but ends up sounding more like the Britney Spears cover of ‘I Love Rock n Roll’ than the Joan Jett original. The Greg Kurstin produced ‘Famous’ is gleaming and brassy and livens up the final third of the album where a lot of the material is just not strong enough to bolster its intended swagger. ‘Need Ur Luv’ does ends the album on a high and completely validates the singer’s current status as one of pop’s it-girls. A skipping 1960s-style chimes with pounding drums and an early Madonna coquettish charm, it is one of the most fully realised songs and best performances by XCX here.
It’s difficult to not draw comparisons between Charli XCX and Sky Ferreira, another young artist who outspokenly criticised an oppressive patriarchal music business. Both have worked closely with super-producer Ariel Rechtshaid but with Ferreira encapsulating the new -wave, pissed off spirit far more eloquently in last year’s Night Time, My Time. Sucker is an album that wants to beat you around the head with its brattish personality and is as frequently two-dimensional as that may sound, sometimes that’s fine but often a change of gear is required as this attitude alone can’t sustain a whole album. She may have had huge hits with other artists and admittedly there are some corkers here, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Sucker won’t be the album that sees Charli XCX become the massive pop star that everyone is expecting; my money is on the next one.