Charli XCX could easily have turned in a safe, hit-heavy pop-dance album this year. But where’s the fun in that?
Charli XCX doesn’t color within the lines. She is a peripatetic mixologist and collaborator who seems happiest when pushing the boundaries of what a three-minute song can do.
On the new, 15-track “Charli” (Atlantic Records), she’s looking back with fondness (“1999”), peering into the future (“2099”) and examining her intimate present (“February 2017”).
The album can’t even be contained in one language — it also includes French, Portuguese and Korean.
She’s reunited here with longtime producer A.G. Cook, and collaborators include Lizzo, Christine and the Queens, HAIM, Troye Sivan, Brooke Candy, CupcakKe, Big Freedia, Sky Ferreira, Clairo and Yaeji.
Charli XCX — born Charlotte Aitchison — achieved pure pop perfection in the past with “Boom Clap” and “Fancy.” Trying to just replicate that seems to bore her.
She does offer some typically addictive pop tracks with “Cross You Out” and a subdued “Warm.” She’s even resurrected an old song — “Track 10” — cleaned it up, added the incomparable Lizzo and offered it anew as “Blame It on Your Love.”
The standout “1999,” a warmly nostalgic, Britney Spears-ish look at key pop culture icons of the 1990s, gets plenty of help from Sivan hysterically crushing on actor Jonathan Taylor Thomas (of childhood fame on TV’s “Home Improvement”).
But the coolest parts of the album are songs like on “Click” and “Shake It,” which aren’t really songs as much as they are robots stuck in a blender and left in a monsoon.
Charli XCX has heard the future and has bookended her album with it.
The first song — “Next Level Charli” — is either just one long chorus or lacks one, a signal of what might happen in this Spotify era.
And the last — “2099,” again with Sivan — is a glorious, anarchic look at what pop might sound like in 80 years.