Thursday, December 18, 2014

Repetition Wounds Charli XCX’s Sucker!

The Good: Moments of vocals, One or two songs, A few lyrics
The Bad: Short, Repetitive, Musically unimaginative (save the last song), Overproduced
The Basics: Charli XCX falls into the familiar dance-pop trap of repeating lines ad nauseum as opposed to creating more complex songs with Sucker.

When I went searching for new music to review, I came across Charli XCX and her album Sucker. The truth was that I was looking for something to review that I might enjoy and that was new and relevant on the music front. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that Sucker contained “Boom Clap,” a single I had heard on the radio the last few months and actually enjoyed (not to be confused with the Jessie J song “Bang Bang Into The Room” – which I pretty much loathed). When I saw all of the critical acclaim Sucker was getting, I allowed myself to raise my expectations.

Unfortunately, after listening to the album eight times now, I have had my hopes dashed. After a good start, Sucker pretty much peaks with “Boom Clap” (its sixth track) before descending into a murky lot of indistinct dance-pop tracks before finishing with a retro-sounding song “Need Ur Luv,” which illustrates a whole range of potential for Charli XCX that went untapped for the rest of the album. In other words, while Charli XCX might have a whole lot of talent, but it is not as evident on Sucker as it could be.

With thirteen tracks clocking out at only 40:19, Sucker is short and the more one listens to it and realizes how little there is to it on the lyrical front (there is a LOT of repetition of choruses here!), the album feels like a lot more filler than substance. Charli XCX is not left taking a lot of the blame, though. While she was a co-writer for all of the songs and provides all of the lead vocals, she was not responsible for any of the production (or, at least, is not credited with it). For a dance-pop album that is heavy on the programmed instrumental accompaniment, that means that Charli XCX is less responsible for the lack of musical diversity and the sense of repetition than a more established musical artist would be.

The initial sound of Sucker is audacious and pounding and Charli XCX has a distinct sound. The album has a pounding bass and powerful synth elements which Charli XCX sings over and from the moment the album begins, it is clear that she has something to say. The problem is with how she says it. Contrasting the deeper, throbbing instrumental accompaniment are Charli XCX’s more dynamic vocals. But the longer Sucker goes on, the less imaginative the musical accompaniment seems. Dance-pop song is followed by dance-pop song is followed by dance-pop song and they have underlying percussion elements so similar that the experience starts to blend together, like someone droning on and on. The exception to this is at the album’s end. “Need Ur Luv” might be titled as if by a contemporary chick texting her way through dumbspeak, but the sound is classic early-1960’s pop and it’s a welcome departure from the rest of the album.

“Need Ur Luv” is also a vocal exception for Charli XCX on Sucker. While most of Sucker has her singing forcefully in lower registers, “Need Ur Luv” has her singing at a higher pitch, again, mimicking a style long gone by. The rest of Sucker, though, is presented with a very limited vocal range. Much of the vocals on Sucker could easily be replaced with spoken word or shouting the lyrics out for as modally uncomplicated as the vocal accompaniment to the music is.

Where Charli XCX redeems herself for the severe musical limitations of Sucker is in her lyrics. Sucker has some legitimately decent songs where Charli XCX and her cowriters tap into something universal. “Boom Clap” would never have reached the height of its popularity if its resounding emotional message “First kiss just like a drug / Under your influence / You take me over you're the magic in my veins / This must be love / Boom! Clap! / The sound of my heart / The beat goes on and on and on and on and / Boom! Clap! / You make me feel good / Come on to me come on to me now” did not resonate with virtually everyone who had ever been in love before. Charli XCX offers an interesting foil to Lorde’s “Royals” with “Gold Coins,” about having tons of money and being eager for the finer things in life.

Unfortunately, amid the few songs about desire and love and relationships, Sucker is populated by dance tracks about being young, partying and just hanging out. The second radio hit from Sucker, “Break The Rules,” is so repetitive with its title/refrain that it becomes hard to listen to after a half-dozen times. Similarly, it is hard to care about musical protagonists who just want to party. When the average song on Sucker has lines like “Back at the hotel / Ringing off the doorbells / Now we're feeling so alive / Come to the top floor, jumpin' like we're 'bout to fly / No one's leaving / 'Bout to blow the ceiling / When we turn it up to ten / Wake up in the morning, gonna do it all again” (“Die Tonight”), it is hard to care to come back to the work.

The only place where the repetition and predictable rhymes work to the benefit of Sucker is on “Need Ur Luv.” The singsong lines “Boy, you really messed around / Put me six feet underground / Always kick me when I'm down / But I'm still driving through your town . . . I need your love / I need it even when it hurts me / I won't give up / I won't give up, so come and get me” (“Need Ur Luv”) are at home on a retro-sounding hit; the form plays to the theme and it works.

But the few hit tracks on Sucker are not enough to justify buying the album. I might seem to be the contrarian critic, but so long as her inevitable compilation album includes “Boom Clap” and “Need Ur Luv” (it will undoubtedly contain “Break The Rules” as well), there is truly no reason to shell out for Sucker.

The best track is “Boom Clap,” the low point is the utterly forgettable “Hanging Around.”

For other new music, please visit my reviews of:
Little Secret - Nikki Yanofsky
Nostalgia - Annie Lennox
Title - Meghan Trainor


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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