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CD Reviews

NY Times News Service

Sucker, by Charli XCX


Charli XCX


Charli XCX is a songwriter of few syllables and countless brute-force hooks on her second album, Sucker. Her debut album, True Romance, had arty trappings; it swathed songs in glimmering, sometimes distracting, electropop. Sucker is far more direct; it’s smart, loud, cheeky, gimmick-loving pop, intent on making every track go bang.

“All the best pop songs are so dumb,” she says in the behind-the-scenes video for her new single, Break the Rules. “That’s why they’re clever.”

For Charli XCX, who was born Charlotte Aitchison, what happened between albums were hits. There was the gleeful, shout-along I Love It, by Icona Pop featuring Charli XCX; there was Fancy, by Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX, which earned a Grammy nomination for record of the year. And there was her own Boom Clap, a million-selling love song on the soundtrack of The Fault in Our Stars film and also on Sucker. As the song begins, four blunt drumbeats accompany Charli XCX declaiming: “Boom! Boom! Boom! Clap!”

There’s plenty going on behind the album’s show of blatancy. The music is brash and glossy, but its attack is varied and full of clever moments. About half the album was produced by Patrik Berger, who worked on Icona Pop’s I Love It and who encourages Charli XCX’s bratty side. The rest of the songs enlist full-time hitmakers, indie-rock studio nerds and those, like Ariel Rechtshaid and Greg Kurstin, who straddle both camps. It’s a discriminating A-list.

Charli XCX’s voice, which rises from throaty richness to cheerleader-style enthusiasm, gets all sorts of backdrops to go with her straightforward verse-chorus-verse. There’s lean, stereo-bouncing new-wave staccato in London Queen; synthetic pomp in Boom Clap; digitized girl-group memories in Need Ur Luv; a touch of Abba in the choruses of the title track, Sucker; Weezer’s fat drums and distorted yet crisp guitars in Hanging Around (produced by Rivers Cuomo of Weezer); and an improbable blend of grunge and trance in Break the Rules.

The determination to be a pop hitmaker isn’t evident in just the sound and structure of the songs; it’s in the lyrics, too. When she’s not singing about hanging out with friends, being in love, holding on, breaking up or shrugging off a boyfriend in favor of pleasuring herself, Charli XCX fixates on fame and wealth. In London Queen, she moves to Hollywood and tells her mother she’s not coming back until she has “all gold plaques”; Gold Coins is a hyperbolic dream of wealth. Famous, which features whistling along with booming and clapping, could be Charli XCX’s corollary to Lorde’s Royals; she sings about a thrill-seeking Friday night of taking “your boyfriend’s car” and crashing parties “just like we’re famous.” She’s jokingly self-aware but also eager to achieve.

The ambition and calculation on Sucker are overt but not a deal breaker. It’s a brittle, professional album full of sonic treats. The question is, what will Charli XCX want to say once she gets the pop audience she craves?

— JON PARELES, NY Times News Service


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