Review Summary: Excellent pop albums are hard to find, but Charli XCX has managed to create one on her first try. And she makes it look so easy.
The most refreshing thing about Charli XCX’s debut album is that it feels like the 20-year-old upstart knows exactly what she’s doing. There’s an undoubtable cohesiveness to True Romance, and its concentrated sonic perimeter allows us to worry less about the artist she is trying to be and instead focus on the music she’s created. Which is, for the most part, very impressive.
About half of this album’s 13 songs were already released on mixtapes and EPs, which may disappoint some fans. However, most of True Romance’s best material is in the form of these older tracks and to exclude them and deny them of reaching a wider audience would be foolish, cruel even. “Stay Away” and “Nuclear Seasons” first popped up in 2011 but the former is still just as potent and stinging, while the latter’s remastering for the album (including the addition of a brand new intro) leaves it sounding better than ever.
“Grins”, the song teased in the aforementioned intro, is an example of all the best parts of True Romance. With its hip-hop influenced percussion, half-spoken half-sung vocal delivery, glittery synths, melancholic backing vocals and revealing lyrics, it’s Charli XCX embodied in one song. “You (Ha Ha Ha)” is another fantastic cut, sharing all her best qualities – and that chopped-up vocal sample is one of the most infectious things I’ve heard all year. It’s one of the best tracks of 2013 and as Charli sings, “Good job, good job, you ***ed it up”, she comes off almost cockily self-assured. Forgive me, but there’s no other way to put it… Charli XCX has swag. How else could she pull off “Cloud Aura”, which has such a strong hook that it manages to overcome Brooke Candy’s horrible rapped lyrics and become one of the strongest tracks present.
The downside of honing in on one particular sound and not diverging from it is that by the end of the album, Charli’s passive sing-rapping and shining synthscapes start to wear thin. There’s the underlying feeling that this record has more style than substance. Weaker tracks “Black Roses” and “How Can I” are hindered by their late placements and subsequently drag, despite sandwiching the catchy pop-perfection of “You’re The One”. They show that although Charli XCX may know exactly how she wanted True Romance to sound, she suffers the debut-album syndrome of wanting to showcase too much.