Charli XCX made her major label debut with this album and it’s a darn good debut, partly because it’s the result of several years of small label and unreleased work. It’s very much a sort of dance-pop album, though it has a lot of darker tones and minor keys that make it a more haunting entry into that genre. But the songs here are really the key and they’re well-crafted and memorable. The songs are starting to kind of run together near the end and the ones that aren’t that great are pretty forgettable. But when the album works, it really, really works. I think my favorite song is Set Me Free, an energetic, twitchy plea for freedom from a cruel lover. Cloud Aura features a fantastic rap verse by someone named Brooke Candy; Black Roses is a grim, implacable little tune; What I Like is a standout track as well and easily the most exuberantly happy on the album. This album doesn’t immediately set Charli up as a ground-breaking, distinctive artist, but it sets her up as a solid contributor to her chosen genre and that’s more than a lot of debut albums do. For all the darkness, this feels like a great party record to me; the beats are energetic and interesting enough to keep the party hopping for the hour or so the album plays. And I like Charli’s voice; she’s got a host of influences, most of them from the eighties, and she wears them on her sleeve, but she manages to pull them off some of the time. There’s one tune, though which one it is escapes me at the moment, where her voice really is a dead ringer for eighties Madonna. In short, I’m going to give this one a recommended. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – production balances darker tones and dance-pop to create a party record with a bit more going on under the surface; occasionally somewhat uninspired, but many of the songs are pop masterworks. 3 ½ stars.