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Music

Album review: Charli XCX's 'True Romance'

Daring experimental pop release is intensely personal and defiantly current

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Charli XCX – True Romance
IAMSOUND Records
★★★★

There are several ways to rationalize your love for the music of Charli XCX. You can listen to her True Romance album and tell yourself that the reason that you love it is because it’s somehow outside of the boundaries of regular old pop music, since, after all, regular old pop music is for dumb kids who don’t know any better. Or you can listen to True Romance and tell yourself that, yeah, it’s regular old pop music, but hey, you love it because it’s a “guilty pleasure.”

Given that, a) True Romance is, stylistically at least, the very definition of contemporary synth-pop, and that, b) the concept of “guilty pleasures” is a deeply flawed one (you love it or you don’t!), maybe it’s time for you, discerning music fan, to go for a third option. Maybe it’s time to accept that danceable synth-pop has, in 2013, arrived at a place where it’s actually driving more original ideas and sounds that are reflective of our contemporary world than the critically beloved music that comprises whatever Critics’ Picks list of bearded blandness you’re currently using as a barometer of acceptability.

But if you’re a human being with a pulse, it’s tough to pretend that True Romance isn’t an album worth loving. Charli XCX’s style is ambitious and insouciant, brimming with a loose confidence that allows her to indulge in some exciting sonic experimentation. But, experiment though she does, she never loses sight of the power of a soaring pop chorus (“Set Me Free”), the effectiveness of a grinding synth line that doubles as both bass line and melody (“Black Roses”), or the pure swagger of coupling emotionally forthright lyrics with a casually cold delivery.

The universe of nouveau synth-pop is vast, able to hold stars as diverse as Grimes and Empire of the Sun, and also Marina and the Diamonds (with whom Charli XCX is touring and recently collaborated with on the stellar “Just Desserts” single), and Charli XCX’s place in that universe is a bit, uh, nebulous. Although the bulk of True Romance’s stylistic approach is defiantly current, there’s no denying that Charli XCX looks toward the ’80s for inspiration. While one can hear this in the synth lines of “Lock You Up” or see this in the new-wave glam of the outfit she sports on the album’s cover, the biggest thing she takes from that era’s synth-pop is the deft ability to sing lyrics that sound intensely personal (e.g., “How can I fix/what I fucked up”) in a way that projects them outward, making her travails the listener’s as well. It’s a lyrical stance cribbed straight from the likes of New Order, and it’s just one of the many bits of evidence that Charli XCX’s music is far more sly and sophisticated than you may have been ready to credit it with. But hey, that’s your problem, not hers.

**POSTPONED** Charli XCX's performs at the Social 7 p.m. Thursday, June 6, with Kitty and Little Daylight. **FULL REFUNDS AVAILABLE AT POINT OF PURCHASE**

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