Review Summary: Fuck a dream I want it for real.Sucker
opens with an illuminating line: “You said you wanna bang? / Well, fu
ck you! Sucker!” That it’s immediately prefaced by a slowly accelerating heartbeat of synths that flat-line for a few seconds before bursting into a gleeful cock-rock rhythm and diamond-encrusted synths seems like the final salute to Charli XCX’s status as a darling of the blogosphere. This is a record that aims its guns squarely for the Top 10 and nothing less; even if Sucker
fails to break through, it’s admirable to see how brazenly it refuses to take itself seriously. She is literally throwing up the bird to her desired audience, the same mainstream that’s treated her as a side attraction for years. After all this time of Charlotte Aitchison seemingly being right on the cusp of blowing up into the Next Big Thing, only to see one throwaway pop song become a smash for another group (Icona Pop’s “I Love It”) and her criminally underrated 2013 release True Romance
lauded by critics but disregarded by radio, Sucker’s
penchant for going for the throat is refreshing. And really, is there a better time for Charli’s combustible mix of drunken 8-bit beats, crunchy guitars, and lusty, anything-goes persona than the end of 2014, a year that saw pop drift rudderless into the worst sales figures in years and the absence of any definable trend aside from the twin queens – Bey and Taylor – bookending a largely forgettable cycle? Sucker
knows very well what it is and is largely oblivious to what it isn’t – for pop music, that kind of confidence is nirvana.
On True Romance
, Charli made the mistake of subverting her charisma under a gloss of goth pop and a tangible sense of atmosphere; the fact that the hooks were just as strong there as they are here mattered little to a world that clearly preferred the car wreck of “I Love It.” Her champagne-chugging guest spot on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” and the bright, lurching drums of her own top 10 single “Boom Clap” heralded what would become Sucker’s
primary bet: waving goodbye to that misnomer of an intro on the title track and going full bore with bratty electro and snarling riff-rock, subtlety be damned. A large part of that is Charli’s cartoonish personality, which here finds its home in those tried and true pillars of pop: love and partying, preferably mashed messily together and doused with booze. That Charli’s voice is always the prominent part of every song here, front and center, obnoxiously loud and inimitably magnetic despite fronting songs that beg to be played at indecent volumes, is arguably what separates Sucker
from the rest of her work. Take a close look at the lyrics to “Break The Rules” and they’re about as offensive as breaking curfew. Yet Charli sells it with a sneer, alongside an EDM-lite rising chorus and a mindless breakdown that flashes back hard to the ‘90s. Best yet, aside from the obvious appeal of the senselessly pleasurable hooks here, there’s little of Sucker
that has a close cousin in the modern pop scene. It’s far more the Strokes and Gwen Stefani, Cyndi Lauper and Phoenix, the Ramones and M.I.A., and while it certainly feels comfortable and familiar, the energy Charli conjures up with these disparate influences is something else.
get exhausting? There’s an unstated mandate in pop music that albums need to contain an inordinate amount of tracks, and there’s fat to be cut here. Charli’s snot-nosed shtick can grate over the course of similarly themed drunken adventures, particularly on the second half, which lays off the bangers in favor of more nuanced shifts in texture (I’d vote off the “Beverly Hills” rip-off “Hanging Around” and the relatively jarring boredom of “Caught In The Middle”). And it’s strangely disconcerting to hear Sucker
end with its most unexpected surprise in the lovingly off-kilter “Need Ur Luv,” which marries some of Charli’s best vocal work to a shuffling soul beat courtesy of Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij. It’s a heartening display of what she’s capable of and a reminder that Sucker
, for all its charms, occasionally comes off as one-dimensional. But there were few records this year as sparkly and blindingly colorful, with production values that revel in excess and a mischievous spirit that rivals the best of Charli’s rebellious, sexually adventurous forebears. Hell, I can’t think of a song in recent memory as self-empowering, yet one that bops along so relentless, all self-indulgent pleasure, than “Body Of My Own”; much less coming from a songwriter able to turn a line like “When I’m driving on the wrong side of the road/ I feel like JFK you know” into an anthem a couple songs prior. Sucker
may be a draining ride at the end of it all, but all the best parties are.