By Fraser McGovern (@FraserMcGovern)
Singer/songwriter Charli XCX serves as living proof that sugary pop music doesn’t have to be total cack. Though their lyrics aren’t anything to write home about, singles from her 2014 LP Sucker boasted some of the catchiest hooks of that year in tracks like Boom Clap, Break the Rules, and my personal darling Famous. Make no mistake about it, these songs were written to be hits and not even the fact that they were successful managed to diminish my love for them.
Though these songs sported some #edgy lyrical content, (“Going to the discotheque / Getting high and getting wrecked”) the instrumentation never seems to reflect this in any serious way. You could easily get away with playing Sucker at a Primary school disco. With this cut from her new mixtape Number 1 Angel, though, Charli seems to be going in a direction more at home within the musical landscape of 2017.
Moody synths? Check. Trap-inspired beat? Check. Heavy-handed drug metaphors? Check. Actually, did I say metaphors? What I meant to say is that the song is explicitly about drugs. “Baby, you the love of my life/ Selling all the drugs that I like/ Baby, you got it/ You know I want it”. I’d say that’s pretty clear. I don’t think she’s singing about popping off to Boots to get some paracetamol. The rest of the lyrics follow on from this theme and aren’t anything amazingly creative, but I suppose drug addicts aren’t usually known for being wordsmiths.
This time, however, XCX gives us the music to back up her scandalous claims. The low-energy verses present warbling autotune vocals from Charli and featured artist ABRA that create a dingy atmosphere fitting of the title. A sinister yet catchy chorus is chanted while the song builds. Synths grow more abrasive as the instrumentation heats up to boiling point, after which we arrive at an eclectic breakdown that puts a pitch-shifting end cap to the track that makes me want to dance.
One might suggest that the song is derivative, and I frankly wouldn’t argue against that. A tired yet valid criticism (that I shall now use without shame) is that any other pop star could be singing here and no one would bat an eyelid. This track isn’t dripping with unique XCX charm like some of her others, but you can’t bash the girl for trying something different. It’s just slightly ironic that when Charli XCX tries to be different, she sounds a bit more like everyone else.
But this track proves, if it needed any more proving, that Charli XCX is capable of writing and performing rock solid, well-above-average tunes of various styles. It may not be revolutionary, but Drugs goes for a vibe and achieves it without being boring. These four minutes were precision engineered by one of the best pop songwriters in the business to excite teenagers, as well as scare your gran, and will do just that.