Review Summary: While honest, Charlotte Aitchison's plans to not be an ordinary pop singer don't really take off.
Being a fierce defender of pop music, listening to True Romance
, the debut album by British singer-songwriter Charlotte Aitchison, better known by her stage name Charli XCX, put me in a difficult position. “Why don’t I like this?”, I asked myself repeatedly. She made such an effort to create a distinctive, identifiable sound, putting together 80s synth-pop and modern-day electronics, combining that with her versatile and vast vocal range, and finally came up with an album that fits equally well with nightclubs and headphones. Still, it’s underwhelming. Despite great in theory, her intentions of growing past the limitations of her genre fail more often than succeed.
The album has a good-enough start, with “Nuclear Seasons” and “You (Ha Ha Ha)”. The two tracks are portraits of what Charlotte wanted the entire album to be, the former musically and the latter lyrically. “I was right all along / Good job, you fuc*ed it up” are the words of a singer whose unapologetic attitude is more than a mere marketing tool, although it obviously is one too. From that moment until the end of the first half, True Romance
is an interesting, if not remarkable, work. With the exception of the Britney Spears-y “Take My Hand”, the other tracks are satisfying pop tunes. The presence of synthesizers is constant, of course, but they’re used in smart ways. Highlight “Grins” is very surprising, much more so than pop music normally is. With sudden rhythm twists, it’s the best example of Aitchison’s potential. Follower “So Far Away” is the most prominent example of the 80s influence. Dreamy vocals, dreamy beats, it’s all there.
But from then on, the album loses steam and becomes painfully average, succumbing to all the clichés of pop albums. There’s the typical pop diva/rapper duo (“Cloud Aura”), the typical sex song (“What I Like”), the typical toxic love song (“Black Roses”), and the typical “you’re the one” song, which is exactly how she decided to name it. The second half of True Romance
abandons the ideals Charlotte had defended in the first half, that is, to distinguish herself from the rest of the pack somehow. These tracks would be perfectly at home in a Katy Perry or Lady Gaga album, and that’s not a good thing, at least not in this context. Of course there’s nothing wrong with songs about falling in and out of love and the complications that come from that, but lines like “You’re the only one who makes me feel this way” sound like they have been sung hundreds of times before by hundreds of different unspecial, manufactured singers, don’t they? Oh, wait, they have.
In fact, the lyrics are Aitchison’s biggest weakness. She did push hard to come off as sassy and provocative at times and helplessly in love at others. The former was poorly attempted with a huge amount of swearwords and the latter with lines such as the previously mentioned. She does have one or two bright moments, but instead of developing them, she chooses to repeat them incessantly, hoping it will start meaning something. That’s the case of the line “How can I fix what I fuc*ed up?”. It’s the exact same thing Rihanna does with “We found love in a hopeless place”, to similarly bad results.
Charlotte Aitchison does have potential. That’s evident in the somewhat superior first half of True Romance
. But throughout its length, the album is plagued by commonplaces and sameness, not within itself, but in relation to other representatives of the genre. Listening to the album doesn’t feel much different from listening to the radio for 48 minutes. She can fix that, but judging from this, it may take a while.