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Charli XCX's 'Brat': Euronews Culture's verdict on this 'drug-infused sticky floor catharsis'

Charli XCX 'Brat' album cover
Charli XCX 'Brat' album cover Copyright Atlantic
Copyright Atlantic
By Jonny Walfisz
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Euronews Culture delivers its verdict on Charli XCX's sixth album 'Brat', a masterful attempt to recreate a night out in 15 tracks.

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Charli XCX is a chimaera of an artist these days.

Her lockdown album ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ was an insight into her personal life and the way she responded to the restrictions of pandemic lockdowns. She followed it up with brash commercially-focused ‘Crash’ in 2021 that was both a knowing wink at the industry and presented a self-imposed limitation on her more interesting musical identity.

She has now returned with her sixth album ‘Brat’ and crafted something that leans into a club-scene aesthetic and wrenches her sound back into something more uniquely her. It’s a symphonic attempt to recreate the emotional turmoil of a massive night out, and it works. It really works.

Instead of relitigating her status within the industry here, let’s jump into it. ‘Brat’ kicks off with single ‘360’ that plays with her cultural placement as an “internet girlie” alongside characters like the chorus name-checked Julia Fox over an insistent rave beat.

This then segues into ‘Club Classics’, a straightforward hyperpop tune that continues to namecheck her producers and labelmates, including the late but continually influential SOPHIE. Like many of the songs here, even the overtly simplistic still glitches into a more complex shapeshifting tune.

Everything here twists the basic premise of a club anthem into both a celebration of the culture and self-aware criticism of the character she plays behind it. ‘Sympathy Is A Knife’ continues that pattern with lyrics that expound her insecurities, even at points suggesting her animosity towards Taylor Swift, who briefly dated her fiancé George Daniel’s bandmate Matty Healy, more for the weight of her reputation than her individual actions.

It’s a slyly personal album again, as ‘I Might Say Something’ evades classification but brings lines like “I'm famous but not quite / But I'm perfect for the background” into a Billie Eilish-like slow-burn. It’s a short break before the album launches back into its more usual frenetic energy with ‘Talk Talk’ and ‘Von dutch’ which use all her familiar tricks – repeated chorus lines, emphatic beats, and her conscious autotuning – to create snarling club anthems. ‘Von dutch’ is a particularly brilliant early 00s pastiche with an ironic grimace.

It’s almost impossible not to start thrashing around while listening to its breakdown and that’s just listening to it at a desk. How this album will transform in the loud dank atmosphere of a dirty club will be something to behold.

Over ‘Brat’, XCX finds ways to turn simplistic ideas into earworms that play on similar themes. There are her insecurities in the public eye (‘Rewind’) and then deep yearnings for love (‘Everything Is Romantic’) that all play into the emotions you imagine her feeling as she tries to unwind in a club atmosphere.

Throughout, the album plays with that inherent tension of a night out. As each tune jumps in and out of braggadocious beats and stripped-back personal insight, you feel the tension that makes going out so addictive. It’s the fight for dancefloor ecstasy over the mundanity of the real world, spinning as normal beyond the club’s doors.

One of the most touching moments is ‘So I’, a song about XCX confronting her relationship with friend and peer SOPHIE, the landmark hyperpop artist who died suddenly in 2021. She recalls the last phone call from SOPHIE she missed before her death, and the kinds of suggestions she’d make for XCX’s songs (“Make it faster”).

It’s a touching moment where Charli XCX grieves before launching into the latter half of the album signifying an increase in tempo, personal insight and catharsis, much like the progression of a long night at a club.

Charli XCX performs at Primavera Sound 2024
Charli XCX performs at Primavera Sound 2024Primavera Sound

The final four tracks of the album are its greatest moments. Their exegesis only works though because the previous 11 songs have built up that ecstatic tension to this point to deliver an ending that replicates those sweaty explosive and frank interior excavations that come around 2am.

‘B2B’ is a masterpiece of a rave tune. The repetition in the vocal line never stretches itself too thin to become repetitive, always tipping towards overplaying its hand before shifting into unexpected territory. It’s the standout track of the album.

That is followed by the similarly twisting ‘Mean Girls’ which takes for a verse what, at first, seems an indictment of the titular mean girls. Accusations of not being a “girl’s girl” dissipate as it becomes a celebration of all the problematic women important to XCX.

Finally, the album ends on a perfect reimagining of XCX’s orchestrated night out. ‘I Think About It All The Time’ is a frank discussion of her fears that she's missing out on something greater by partying through her life as a friend becomes a mother. “'Cause maybe one day I might / If I don't run out of time / Would it make me miss all my freedom?” is the exact sort of admission you make to a friend deep into the night in a smoking area.

Before the lights come back on and you have to walk home in the early hours past people going about their quotidian lives, those thoughts must be put aside for that one final chance to dance. Album closer ‘365’ revisits the beat of opener ‘360’ but now everything is dialled up. It’s an unabashed celebration of drug-infused sticky floor catharsis.

Charli XCX ends everything at the peak of the night, where the world rescinds out of view and all that matters is the moment.

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