Review: Charli XCX, Number 1 Angel

With Number 1 Angel, Charli XCX gives us a preview of what’s to come, not just for her album, but all of pop music
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With Number 1 Angel, Charli XCX gives us a preview of what’s to come, not just for her album, but all of pop music

A little over a year since she rode a Lamborghini into pop’s stratosphere, Charlotte Aitchison, aka Charli XCX, beams back to earth from the post-pop heaven she blasted off to. She lands with the sugar-coated Number 1 Angel in tow, a mixtape released in anticipation of Aitchison’s next album.

"When you put a different name on an album, it frees you up,” Aitchison told Zane Lowe on Radio 1. “The record label gets less afraid. They're like ‘Oh, it's a mixtape!’”

“Mixtape” appropriately encompasses the composition of Number 1 Angel, which blends variations of pop, electronica, and hip-hop into a sleek, ultramodern sound suitable for nightclubs or the opening sequence of an anime. Ambitious in scope, Aitchison at times exudes the synthetic warble of PartyNextDoor and at others the youthful exuberance of a virtual Jpop starlet. Basically, she sounds like the future.

To get them out of the way, the shortcomings present on Number 1 Angel often feel less like mistakes in composition and more laziness. Aitchison falls back on material that both she and everyone else has used before, from the automotive imagery present in “3AM” or just the simple fact that she is neither the first nor the last person to pull up in a beamer. And though shrewdly sexual in “Lipgloss”, she’s hardly around to enjoy the majority of the song. To be fair, she released this as a side project, hurling lyrics, genres, and collaborators at a wall and seeing what sticks. Given its sugary disposition, it comes as no surprise Number 1 Angel sticks like a jolly rancher to a molar.

The sweetness of Number 1 Angel belies its depths, disguising moments of weakness, infidelity, and even true love beneath layers of gloss and synths. Though light on its feet, “3AM (Pull Up)” discloses the feelings of being someone’s booty call, Aitchison pinball-ing between feelings of ecstasy and humiliation. “Emotional” sounds like “Boom Clap” 2.0, but instead of young love, it details the complicated relationship of two unfaithful lovers bonded by their adultery. Furthermore, Number 1 Angel’s lustrous finish imbues her passions and fantasies with extra-richness and potency. “ILY2” impacts like a runaway bouncy house, while “White Roses” icily kisses off Aitchison’s True Romance persona in favor of embracing “the pop machine.”

A connoisseur of collaboration, Aitchison tastefully recruits an elite unit of pop and hip-hop’s rising stars, even charming the elusive Uffie onto the hip-hop lite “Babygirl”. Alongside Awful Records’ Abra on “Drugs”, Aitchison succumbs to a Weeknd-esque craving for stimulus and sex. Meanwhile, the sticky subversion of Aitchison’s chorus in “Lipgloss” is foiled perfectly against bodacious rapper Cupcakke’s blunt invitation to “try the sample, lick between the camel.” In the end, her tried-and-true partner in pop, Sophie, lifts her highest on the PC Music romp of “Roll With Me”. “Do you wanna roll with me” is her way of asking you to come with her in more ways than one.

One could call Aitchison a manufactured popstar, but Charli XCX is a persona she built herself. Aitchison intelligently pairs her clever lyrics against beats that push genres outward, her filling in the spaces with her hooks and gigantic personality. Like the angel she named it after, Number 1 Angel flies high in its aspirations, on wings made of titanium instead of wax. The closer she gets to the sun, the brighter she shines. B