The pop world might well be on form at the moment, chugging along like a well-run High School canteen of familiar, established faces. What it’s missing, though, is a shake-up. We want a Tai Frasier character dragging her satchel down the linoleum-floored corridor instead of carrying it properly, who spends lunch hour hiding on the roof and listening to The Vibrators with Travis Birkenstock. That shake up might just have arrived with an almighty boom clap.
A giant heart shaped lollipop with the word ‘Sucker’ scrawled across it covers her second studio album of the same name. Bratty and right up in your face, this isn’t amiable pop music that quietly creeps around in the background while the day continues as usual, oh no. The manifesto surrounding ‘Sucker’ from the off seems clear enough. Stick this in your gob, suckers. You better like it, or else, fuck you.
‘Sucker’ is deliberately brash and direct, and without wanting to take anything away from her previous album, ‘True Romance’, or the whirlwind successes of chart-topping sensations ‘Fancy’ or ‘I Love It’, this is the boldest thing that Charli XCX has ever put her name to. A healthy intake of French yé-yé pop, washed down with a bootleg slug of punk from the bottle is fuel a-plenty for a record, and refined vocal gymnastics, refreshingly, barely get a look in. When Charli’s raw, fuzzy, walkman microphone-treated vocals are given free reign, it’s electric.
Charli XCX is the pop star that you want to be best mates with.
“Your sex is so over,” snarls Charli, in one such moment on ‘Body Of My Own’. “My touch is better/ I’m rolling much hotter,” she drawls moments later, and with lyrics that make mothers tut, and Siouxsie Sioux-esque pentatonics, it’s sexy on her own terms. Meanwhile, ‘Need Ur Love’ yelps unpolished over childish music-box melodies gone-wrong, and the strange, twisted sounds on ‘Gold Coins’ - borrowed from god knows where – are turned into something that has Charli XCX ownership written all over it. The cocksure ‘Famous’ swaggers down the street blowing pink gum bubbles and flipping middle fingers. On these songs, Charli XCX is the pop star that you want to be best mates with, because she gives absolutely no shits when it comes to conformity.
Some songs undoubtedly play on recognisable pop tropes, with varying levels of success. ‘Breaking Up’ cheekily recycles pop-punk sentiments and gets away with it deliciously scot-free, because Charli’s distinctive, attitude-packed vocal transcends / ‘So Over You’ on the other hand, comes across as strangely unambitious Disney-rock, and the last minute decision to draft in a new guest for a UK version of ‘Doing It’ also seems downright bizarre. Rita Ora may hugely successful and consistently chart-topping, but she somewhat blunts the edges of a previously rough-hewn piece of pop; her crystal-clear vocals in constant battle against the clear voice Charli’s established elsewhere.
The real appeal of ‘Sucker’ isn’t as a piece of radio pleasing chart-fodder, and it doesn’t need an endorsement stamp from a less exciting pop star to stand up. For all its instant appeal, this is for the most part an album that eschews pop convention. After years of being synonymous with the prefix ‘ft.’ Charli XCX has found her voice.