On “I Love It,” the boisterous single she penned for Swedish duo Icona Pop, Charli XCX crashed her car into a burning bridge; on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” the ubiquitous rap-pop anthem of 2014, she swung on a hotel chandelier, wildly drunk on the mini-bar. As a singer and songwriter, Charli—22-year-old Charlotte Emma Aitchison—thrives on “look at me” chaos. But she’s spent much of her career sharing the spotlight. Sucker, the singer’s second major-label LP, is all spotlight: 13 tracks of magnetic—if occasionally monochromatic—synth-pop rebellion.
Charli crafted the album with a globe-spanning Dream Team of pop and rock producers (Patrik Berger, Ariel Pink, Greg Kurstin, Benny Blanco, even Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo), but those top-tier talents only color and enhance Charli’s cartoonishly large persona: a mix of self-empowered feminist and #YOLO-tattooed mall punk. Through its peaks and valleys, Charli’s voice rings loudest on Sucker.
The title track opens with a glazed layer of synth, the kind of haunted atmosphere that populated her 2013 breakout LP, True Romance. But that sound is a misnomer on Sucker, which blends the caffeinated angst of “I Love It” and the decadence of “Fancy” with an extra layer of snot-nosed riff-rock. “Sucker”’s “fuck you” synth-punk exemplifies the album’s relentless first half: On the snarling “Break the Rules,” she gets loaded and crashes the high school prom; on “London Queen,” she turns reckless driving into a glamour sport over another chugging guitar hook.
It’s a blast sitting in the backseat of Charli’s speeding stretch limo—but eventually you’re gonna run out of gas. And “London Queen” is a cheap, sub-“Party in the U.S.A.” thrill compared to the album’s more introspective and musically varied second half. “Doing It” is Sucker’s first great capital-S song, expanding beyond the juvenile into the suave: Charli layers her croon over elastic slap-bass, blending early-’90s R&B with M83’s glottal synth-rock. Elsewhere, she redefines “f*ck buddy” on the neon-buzzed “Body of My Own” (“I don’t need you / My touch is better”), which challenges “Turning Japanese” as the greatest-ever pop ode to masturbation. Sucker’s sweetest surprise is “Need Ur Luv” (produced and co-written by Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij), which closes the LP with warbled Motown soul.
For all her bratty star power, Charli XCX’s purest magic lies in the intimate—not the irreverent.