Charli XCX has had a very interesting career trajectory. She first really came into public consciousness on the hook of an Icona Pop song and stayed in the mainstream radio friendly sphere for some time, crafting hits like “Boom Clap” that are still her most popular songs to this day. But for a solid five years now she’s almost been a brand ambassador for hyperpop, the experimental candy coated shock to the system that has seen a massive rise in popularity recently. For me, her music was a gateway into this world, and her last two albums, 2019’s “Charli” and “how i’m feeling now”, a meditation on the pandemic that was equal parts reflective and cathartic, were each my favorite albums of their respective years.
On Thursday, November 4, she kicked off the rollout of her upcoming album, “CRASH”, set to release in March of 2022 and with an accompanying tour. “New Shapes” is the second single off this project, and already it’s clear that the album will be a shift in style from her previous work. “Good Ones”, the first single, was an 80s-inspired pop rumination on lost love accompanied by an aesthetic straight out of that decade, down to her permed hair on the washed out album cover. I thoroughly enjoyed this song and have listened to it a lot since its release, but in a lot of ways it felt like a step back from the highs of “how i’m feeling now”, less adventurous both sonically and lyrically.
Which finally brings me to “New Shapes”. Part of the reason I took this long to talk about the actual three and a half minutes of music was because the context is very important to its appreciation. There are a lot of elements I really like. Charli’s vocal performance is great, and the minimal instrumental really sits back and puts her center stage. I love the quiet but still very present synths occasionally punctuating the track and adding some nice flair. Christine and the Queens, who are Charli XCX feature royalty thanks to her amazing work on “Gone”, are here and put in a great verse to keep the song chugging along.
There were a few elements, though, that drag the song down. The chorus is both too long and somewhat weak for the climax it’s built to be, the concept of loving “in new shapes” is a bit vague and the song could generally use a more clear direction. And while I love Caroline Polacheck’s music (and her amazing set at Hopscotch earlier this year), her feature on the third verse here was just not it. It wasn’t entirely her fault, the instrumental just completely recedes into the background, but her lines were just very awkward and it lacked the sharp edges of recent work like the absolute bop that was “Bunny is a Rider”.
And that’s my biggest frustration with this song. On its own merits it’s fine, good even, but as a Charli XCX song with big name features? It just doesn’t reach the standard her last few albums have forged through their inventive production and just by being a unique voice in a very crowded field. I’ll never forget listening to “claws” for the first time and being blown away by the energy on that track, but I don’t know if I’ll be revisiting “New Shapes” next week, much less next year. I’m still very excited to hear the full album, but it’s a different kind of excitement then I had going into her last few releases, more of how I anticipate a Marvel movie than an Oscar contender. Oh I’ll have fun with it, and take away some memories, but if “New Shapes” is an indication of the direction of the project, I won’t be blown away, and that’s something I had been getting used to from her music.