Pop-singer Charli XCX has had an eclectic and genre-shifting career since her debut with the 2013 album True Romance. With an arsenal of guest musicians over almost a decade, from BTS and Lizzo to SOPHIE and Carly Rae Jepsen, she has an eye and ear for music shapeshifters and trends, always seemingly a step out of place from her peers due to her innovation and oddities. She doesn’t sound like other pop singers, but she sounds inarguably like herself on any product she’s worked on until now. Crash, while serviceable, leaves much to be desired as a fan of the singer.
For what was meant to be her easy, radio grab pop anthems, there’s very little here that might be confused as catchy. Apathetic in delivery and thinly rendered on the technical level, Crash isn’t going to enter the upper pantheon of her work anytime soon. Where her best albums – how i’m feeling now and Pop 2 – had a sense of personality and individualistic artistry, her latest merely joins the sizable fizzle that is the current popular radio bops. Forgettable and interchangeable, Crash is a letdown following her 2020 release which is the very best of her career and one of our best albums of that given year.
As her last album with her current record label Atlantic Records, it lacks the electricity that typically infuses her gothic and dance-pop-inspired music.
The letdown starts at the first track. While “Crash” has interesting production and instrumentations it is too repetitive and unsubstantial. The opening title track is indicative of the album’s sound as a whole. It’s busy, on a technical level there’s certainly a lot going on, and still, it manages to sound empty.
While the singles are the worst on the album, it’s still “New Shapes” and “Beg For You” that leaves the most to be desired. We know that she and Christine and the Queens make for a formidable pairing with the previous song “Gone” a terrific example and, in theory, a song between her and Rina Sawayama should soar, but instead both songs do little to justify their involvement. Caroline Polachek on “New Shapes” is best served, allowing a bridge that gives her an ample moment to showcase her ghostly vocals.
“New Shapes” in particular holds wasted potential. Aside from well-suited guests, there are also more interesting factors taking place in the background that hint at what might’ve been a more interesting number.
“Good Ones,” the first single released for Crash, is vacant radio fodder and spends the majority of the song establishing its sound only to peter off. There’s nothing wrong with a short song – especially these days when seemingly the shorter the playtime the better – but “Good Ones” is over and done so quickly that it never actually goes anywhere.
Similarly, the sensual yet forgettable “Baby” along with “Used to Know Me” and “Yuck” are hollow and lack substance. In the worst moments, she sounds bored, the vocals all but dragging themselves out.
It’s a shame too, and not just because she’s delivered one of the most interesting pop albums of the last few years. It’s a shame because, on this album, there are a number of songs that show signs of life. “Constant Repeat” is the first. Despite repetitive lyrics and melodies, the pre-chorus and chorus are infectious and catchy, the synth beat infusing the number with a notable punch. Unlike “Crash,” the song utilizes its repetitiveness to hook the song so that it’s stuck on loop once it’s ended.
It’s all the more impressive since the album as a whole has a chorus problem. So many of them gear towards genericity to the point of aimlessness. There’s artistry behind the finesse that goes into tailoring a pop song that is both heavily influenced by the big chart singles of the past while bringing a level of singularity and none of the singles, in particular, manage to capture this. “Baby” clearly wants to be the new “Toxic” but it’s missing the specificity of tone and time that Brittany Spears brought to it.
For highlights though, “Move Me” makes the case for potentially being the best number on the album, despite barely clocking in at 2 ½ minutes. As one of the few instances where she plays around with her vocals, it juxtaposes nicely against an interest, quick, and scattered percussion that offsets the sweet intonation. Seemingly one of the more insightful tracks on the album, she sings”
“It’s something ‘bout the way you save my life/something ‘bout the way you/hold my body tight even on my lowest night/locked down my by side even when I’m borderline”
Honest, raw, dealing with heartache and self-reflection, it’s a bold and brief declaration in the face of ready-made personal demons. It might’ve been the strongest song on the album too had it not been for the frustrating fantastic “Lightning.”
Easily the best on the album, the number showcases actual creative growth. With its digital and heavily processed breakdowns, it’s the most like her previous and strongest work. Possessing playful vocal distortions along with throwback instrumentation that borrows from the 80s and 90s. Fun and infectious, it channels the dance and club scene aesthetic with ease, a strong reminder that Charli XCX has created some of the catchiest pop songs while, previously, never losing sight of herself as an artist.
It’s presumptuous to assume anything about an artist beyond what they’ve let out into the world. She’s jokingly called this her sellout era and perhaps that’s correct. Perhaps, this is the album that gets forgotten and that her next will be reinvigorated now that she’s gotten one obligation out of the way. It’s a shame though because while there are enough highlights on Crash to keep it from being bad, it’s lacking that spark and frenzied energy that makes Charli XCX such an exciting, formidable talent. It’s not a letdown because it’s terrible (it isn’t) but because she’s demonstrated that she can produce incredible music.