Album Review: "Sucker," by Charli XCX

 She's so fancy... (image via  Drew de F Fawkes )

She's so fancy... (image via Drew de F Fawkes)

Charli XCX was in danger of becoming the millennial version of Nate Dogg- an artist known more for being featured on (and often, the best part of) other people's songs. Her work singing the catchy hooks on Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" and Icona Pop's "I Love It" was so good that she actually overshadowed the lead artists. 

With the release of "Sucker," Charli XCX should finally get some attention as a solo artist. "Sucker," the England native's third album, is an entertaining affair that proves her ability to come up with catchy hooks that will stay in your head for days is no fluke. It's an album full of potential radio hits and should turn Charli XCX into a gigantic pop star. I enjoyed this album thoroughly and was happy to see it get lots of love from music critics (Rolling Stone had it as the sixth-best album of 2014 - "Songs of Innocence" was #1 - I actually think "Sucker" was a lot better and I am a huge U2 fan). To paraphrase- remember her name, it's about to blow.

What's interesting is that, for at least part of the album, she seems to not want to be a typical pop star - or at least, she seems to try for what Lorde did on her breakthrough album and be an ironic pop star. It's appropriate, given how the two are often confused for one another. Indeed, "Gold Coins" is her version of "Royals" - a satirical look at material culture with a catchy beat and hook. "My grills are so neat/ Drip icy cold/ Got offshore bank accounts and diamond blue palm trees," she sings in the opening line to the song. In "London Queen," she sings (satirically, I think) about trading in her life so that she can live the Hollywood lifestyle. Meanwhile, on "Famous," she opines that, since she's famous, she and her friends can act as dumb as they want and people will still indulge them.

Of course, it's possible that she's not being satirical and that these songs are to be taken at face value. Even if that's true, it's still a smart play on her part since it reinforces the notion that she's pop's next big thing.

In fact, attitude plays a big part on "Sucker" as she tries to infuse other songs with a punk-flavored lyrics. "Sucker," the title track and first song on the album, opens provocatively with the line: "You said you wanna bang/ Well, f--- you sucker!" Second single "Break the Rules" takes a more artificially rebellious attitude, with Charli XCX singing: "I don't wanna go to school/ I just wanna break the rules/ Boys and girls across the world/ Putting on our dancing shoes/ Going to the discotheque/ Getting high and getting wrecked." Charli XCX may be young, but she certainly hasn't been a school girl in years. The "discotheque" line seems thrown in (do they even exist anymore?) because she needed something that rhymed with "wrecked."

Indeed, outside of her hooks, her lyrics are quite uneven and keep "Sucker" from being a truly great album. Much has been made of her collaborations with Rivers Cuomo of Weezer and Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend. Those songs end up being two of the best on the album. "Hanging Around," which was co-written with Cuomo, sounds like a clone of "Beverly Hills," right down to the clap-along verses. If you like that song (it's one of my favorite Weezer songs - although I'm sure that puts me in the minority), then you'll love this one. "Die Tonight" which was co-written with Batmanglij is one of the best songs on the album and is another track that straddles the line between making fun of the rock-style lifestyle and embracing it (you could argue "Beverly Hills" is that kind of song, as well - no surprise that it's her favorite Weezer song). 

Of course, no review would be complete without mentioning her big breakout hit, "Boom Clap." The song, which was featured in "The Fault In Our Stars," is a straightforward love song and is not some satirical look at the effects of living a rock 'n roll lifestyle (for instance, "Boom Clap" refers to the sound her heart makes and is not a euphemism for vaccine-resistant gonorrhea or anything). The song's unexpected success actually held up the release of "Sucker" because, in Charli XCX's words, she wanted to "launch the album properly." Translation: The record company wanted to cash in and put the song on the album so they had to change all the artwork and add "Boom Clap" to the master recording. Clearly she's already gotten the public relations part of being a star down pat.

The strength of her hooks, as well as her ability to seemingly raise her game when collaborating with other pop/rock stars pretty much confirms what we knew about her all along. The overall quality of the album, however, tells us that she could be huge in her own right. Time will tell whether she remains Nate Dogg 2.0 or becomes the next Robbie Williams (the overshadowed sidekick that became a breakout solo star). With "Sucker," though, she is definitely on the path towards stardom.

Grade: A-

Victor Li

chicago, il