Charli XCX is no stranger to a good hook; she has, in the past, riddled her songs with them and made other, lesser artists more palatable through her writing and chipmunk squeaked vocals over their tracks (hello, Iggy Azalea). She’s also flirted with the idea of becoming a more concise, minimalist version of herself. On her most recent release, 2016’s Vroom Vroom EP, she utilized the hypermodern production talents of artist and producer SOPHIE to an unfortunately annoying, thin effect. The songs were bolstered by some of her most earworm-y choruses to date, but they weren’t much else. She also tried her hand out with rap cadences across the glossy sheen of the EP, and on Number 1 Angel, she effectively rewrites that EP as a stopgap release between it and her next album as she goes through label troubles. Number 1 Angel rejuvenates the ideas she had across all of her prior albums (mostly excluding the pop punk ready Sucker), and comes back with her strongest work since her major label debut, the stunning dark pop opus True Romance.
The best songs show Charli’s ability to work well with her producers and guest features while simultaneously filling in every space with previously untried rhythms and melodies in her canon. Opener “Dreamer,” featuring rappers Starrah and Raye, lets you know essentially everything you’re going to get into for the rest of the album. Heavily autotuned, constant forward motion and with hook after hook, it establishes the ecstatic energy that continues mostly through the rest of the album until “White Roses,” in what appears to be the antithesis to True Romance late album cut “Black Roses.” Rather than “falling victim to” her lover’s wiles, she sets forth a winter wonderland of a track where she seemingly can’t live without her loved one. Standout track “Roll With Me” is a hyperrave fantasy; it builds on the quick flows she built up on the prior two tracks and funnels it through a candy-coated and brittle thin pop-rave track from previous collaborator SOPHIE that never ceases to put a smile on my face, no matter how often I listen to it. The first three-fifths of the album are full of these joy-inducing moments, whereas post-“White Roses,” the album is content to mellow out and relax a bit.
The album occasionally falters when Charli becomes more beholden to standard current pop tropes; “3AM (Pull Up)” isn’t without its merits, but it gets lost amid the “tropical house” genre that seems to be pop’s recent M.O., and artist MØ doesn’t add anything to the track either with her “Indie Voice” stylings. “Babygirl” and “Drugs” (featuring artists Uffie and Abra, respectively) aren’t lacking in any glaring way other than energy; it feels as though Number 1 Angel mirrors a sugar rush in that aspect, crashing down once the album has rid itself of the sugar high it was on, and “Drugs” clichéd drug-as-love metaphor doesn’t help it in this regard. The album is never a slog to get through, however, and closer “Lipgloss,” featuring Twitter favorite rapper Cupcakke, adds a final dose of candy gloss and gleeful vulgarity to wrap the album up in what is the best feature across the entire album.
Number 1 Angel stays firmly in the lane of what Charli XCX has done previously, while simultaneously stretching the form and function of what she feels she can get done in a 3- to 4-minute pop track. The album likely will only continue her upward path into the upper echelons of pop artists, and might even bring back fans who were lost on the steely Vroom Vroom EP. If she can continue to hone the incredible energy she has on the best tracks here, she’ll likely forge a signature that will keep herself happy with the content she produces. The most apt way of describing her remaining firmly rooted in her pop strengths is, as she intones on “Lipgloss,” “It’s Charli.”