Available on: Asylum LP
Picture the scene. You are Alan Cumming in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. You’ve come back triumphant after all these years, leaving the naysayers to look on in quiet awe. As the night draws to a close you step onto the dance floor and extend your arms out invitingly, and two smaller, softer hands fold into your own. This is your moment – a resounding assurance that you have finally made it – and the floor is yours. You look up to see Fairuza Balk from The Craft on your left and Robyn on your right. They gaze at you with gentle wonder and relief. They’re here with you, for you, and the music starts.
The opening crashes of Charli XCX’s ‘Stay Away’ sound across the hall. You take a deep breath, and the dance begins. Fairuza steadily pirouettes around you as your arms sweep dramatically overhead in a peacock-esque flourish, whilst Robyn rolls across the floor on her back and onto one raised knee, head bent low with impassioned anguish. Bodies, flannel lumberjack shirts and silk, spaghetti-strap slip dresses tangle and twist with equal parts bleak comedy and grace and as the final breathy lyrics echo and fade the crowd is left stunned, and you all leave arm in arm in smug, mutual joy.
Okay, maybe ‘Stay Away’ isn’t quite ‘Time After Time’, but it feels like the kind of soaring, Eurythmics-leaning jam that Fairuza and Robyn would get behind, and Charli XCX has certainly absorbed the melancholic drama and aimless lust of ’80s pop’s goth tendencies that makes her debut such an unexpected delight. Her musings on the despondency that comes with the waiting-and-baiting games of young love figures her as a bubblegum Grimes, or Enid from Ghost World going through a Sailor Moon phase, teetering on the edge between dreamy escapism and harsh realism in a way only someone recently thrust from their teenage years can.
Charli XCX took her moniker from her MSN Messenger screen name as a teenager and it’s apt that the chat service was officially shut down on the week of True Romance‘s release. She’s part of the generation who lived out their entire young adult lives through social media platforms and now, at 20, she reflects on the impulses and after effects of these years obsessing over heartache, magnified by the constant self-evaluation that is the central by-product of such relations. ‘So Far Away’ details a chat room romance blossoming and wilting to the sound of a woozy (if slightly underwhelming) hip-hop production. It leads straight into ‘Cloud Aura’, a cringe-worthy “fuck ya man” outing exacerbated by teen rapper Brooke Candy, who delivers a profoundly naff verse about snooping on her other half’s emails and living life “in the trap” that even, inexplicably, name-drops Chris Brown. If Tumblr had a face, I’d punch it to this song.
‘Cloud Aura’ is the albums only clear low point though, and Charli’s huffy, unabashed vocal style turns out to be surprisingly versatile. ‘Set Me Free’ pleads for one last kiss with a knowing masochism, ‘Nuclear Seasons’ rubs chilly Scandi-pop chimes up against lurches of fuzzy synths, and ‘Take My Hand’ fuses Charli’s nonchalant London accent with the kind of glittering, hyperactive production that wouldn’t be that out of place on a 2NE1 album. It’s huge and soaring its in ambition, but tender and introspective in its execution, and always adheres to the central theme of the fleetingness of human interaction with a tender wisdom that befits her age. Love, lust and longing are chronicled and dissected in True Romance through online relationships being gradually given tangible, tactile form, setting Charli up as a young pop star to be reckoned with. Ariel Rechtshaid, if you’re reading this, between True Romance and Sky Ferreira’s debut, I think you’ve got 2013 pretty made up already.