|Image credit: TORLEY Flickr|
Artist: Charli XCX
Album: Vroom Vroom EP
Record Label: Atlanta UK
Release Date: 26th February 2016
Those who are au fait with/ regularly listen to Heavy metal critics’ Terry Bezer and Stephen Hill’s fabulous That’s Not Metal podcast will know that a subject of some focus in recent weeks has been The BRITS. While launching a scathing verbal attack on pop-punk has beens Simple Plan’s latest full-length last week, both gentlemen referenced the state of modern pop music as exemplified by The Weeknd’s performance at the awards show, which in their words was “feels like it’s for adults”. Charli XCX seems to be one of the few artists to be launched by the major label-orientated process not confined to a completely sinister craft, and Vroom Vroom, her 4-track new EP, is a release that consummates that assertion if evidence had been lacking previously.
Unlike, for example, Rihanna’s foray into bad girl territory, which initially felt like little more than a marketing man’s exploitative wet dream disguised as redemption, Charli XCX’s sassiness has always been of a serious pedigree, whether it be via stone-faced interviews or shameless references to pill culture (‘Break The Rules’). On this EP, that sassiness finds a totally befitting, X-rated bedfellow in the form of UK producer SOPHIE, whose often mind-bendingly weird full-length LP Product took dance music culture by storm last year. The beats he offers here are also equipped with off-kilter, noisy texture, but those tropes are measured up against a seriously banging quality that, while not necessarily a new mesh in essence, feels totally electrifying.
Something else that speaks volumes for Charli XCX’s authentic approach is the chemistry between herself and SOPHIE, which both on paper and in reality makes good on the idea that their ethos’ aren’t THAT dissimilar. Both have a countenance that pushes back against the force of the radio 1 A-playlist to at least some extent, and while that could so easily have been a recipe for disjointed apocalypse, it actually works seamlessly. The grit and dirt that underpins the production and the bad-ass diatribe of the protagonist would be natural friends in almost any other genre of music, and so Vroom Vroom is a testament to the fact that, when it’s done properly, this can work in pop music too.
There are moments here that exemplify and protrude themselves as nothing more adventurous than banging pop nastiness; the title track, complete with brooding but tongue-in-cheek white girl rapping and a vicious acid synth on the second verse and ‘Trophy’, which is the closest the EP gets to student-night-club-floor conventionality are those, and as idiosyncrasies and swooshes of odd-ball noise fire in and out they maintain their catchy and fiery forte. More extravagant though is the euphoric romance of ‘Paradise’, which flits from piano balladry to a gabba/trance referencing bridge into enormous hyper-coloured Trap. It closes with the pure industrial filth of ‘Secret (Shh)’, which would be a shout for sex jam of the year if it wasn’t so sonically dark and depraved.
It might have been possible to argue that the brevity of Vroom Vroom works in its favour, but actually there’s no sense that the existing paradigms here could be uprooted and twisted to create and make space for more interesting conjectures. The whole calibre of the EP is one of confidence, sexiness and experimentation that, in the realm of the internationally lauded pop, could be a saving grace.