Album Review: Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now (2020)

It’s only been eight months since she dropped her third studio album – ‘Charli’ – but Charli XCX has already released XCX4, her sixth full-length effort. Written and created purely within the last few weeks, it portrays Charli’s current state of mind, including her relationship with boyfriend Huck Kwong, and the struggles of being in lockdown.

She first leaked the album details through tumblr and lanaboards – leading many Angels to believe that it was a false rumour. But it turned out to be true – as did rumours of XCX5 being almost finished (having begun work a long time ago) and plans for XCX6 to be put out in December. I daresay plans for those two albums may well be pushed back a little bit. Styled as her most collaborative effort yet (although not including any features, a first for a Charli album), she worked with her fans every step of the way, getting them to send in beats, collaborate on lyrics and asking for feedback on the single artworks. She’s released three official artworks for the first three singles, and is even dropping a book, with all proceeds going to charity.

The first taste from the album we received was ‘forever’, a love song devoted to her boyfriend. According to Charli herself, she wrote, recorded and released the song within four days – if true, this is really high quality for something completed in such a short time. However, another consequence of this is that it could easily also be track 16 from ‘Charli’ – my main concern about two more albums arriving hot on the heels of this one is that it will all start to sound the same. Not that it sounds bad, and this is an exceptional effort for a very fast album, but eventually fans will want something different. (Or maybe just Taxi.)

My favourite taster of the album was the second single, ‘claws’ – which originated as Charli’s working title for the track, but wound up being the final name. This is what I love so much about the process for ‘how i’m feeling now’ – we get all of these special insights and interesting info about it, which for a normal album we wouldn’t normally receive. Produced by Dylan Brady of 100 gecs, the final few seconds are some of my favourite on the whole album and give a throwback to the extreme electronic manipulation of ‘Pop 2’.

However, as I went into the full album I had a sense of… apprehension. ‘pink diamond’ is the opener – and all I could think about was how much I loved it. It’s got her intense rap style, but with her signature crazy hyperelectronica over it. It’s an extremely strong start to ‘how i’m feeling now’. The next new release on the album is ‘7 years’- maybe it will grow on me, but it really didn’t make much of an impact on me. It reminds me of the songs on ‘Charli’ that I skip, it just feels like she’s going through the motions a little bit.

‘detonate’ is track 5. I feel like this album goes by really quickly when you listen to it. I spend the whole of this song waiting for the part that makes me go wow – and it never comes. The final minute is catchier and more like the stuff I like – but it doesn’t have the killer beat or the knockout production on it. Out of all the songs on this album though, this has the most potential to grow on me. I’m also noticing that Charli’s outros are STRONG.

‘enemy’ is song 6, and released as the fourth single simultaneously with the album. I’m not exactly sure why, although it does fit with the other singles released. The best part of this song is the really emotional spoken section, which may have been taken from one of her instagram videos? (I’m not certain). Apart from that though, it just feels like run-of-the-mill Charli, and halfway through the album, it feels like there’s more filler than actual substance. I understand that it’s hard to make an album in such a short period of time and I appreciate her so much for doing it 🖤

‘i finally understand’ was the third single, released last week. It made zero impact on me at the time, but listening to it in the context of the album made me appreciate it more. The beat could easily come from a Grimes album, and I really like the chorus. ‘C2.0’ – a name which was really intriguing, but CLICK REMIX? I DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING. Although the endless ‘clickclickclickclickclickclick’ could make me smash my phone up when I’m in a bad mood, I really like this song as a whole. Not a patch on the previous versions of Click, which really is one of the highlights of her career in my view (especially the Girls Only Remix).

‘party 4 u’ feels like a personal message for her fans, telling us that she does it for us. It’s really sweet to start with, but then it seems to just get more and more repetitive, and while I appreciate it, the 5 minute length is going to stop me playing this too often. It just seems to take a bit long; love the ending with the noise from a crowd at one of her shows though!

Just when I was expecting this album to move into a sleepy finale, track 10 turns up and ‘anthems’ got me going again. Uptempo, it really is an anthem. The louder this gets played, the better, and I actually really like it. In Charli’s current style, this is another example of where a shorter (under 3 minutes) song is more effective. It encapsulates her energy and positivity without getting repeptitive and tedious. A highlight from the album.

‘visions’ is the finale; from the name alone, I had big expectations. Maybe my EDM side comes out a bit here, but I started dancing when the heavy beat kicked in at the start of the second half. This could be recency bias or whatever, but the pure, whatever the fuck you want to call the last 2 minutes of this album, rivals ‘track10’ for a conclusion. I am actually living for the end of this.

‘how i’m feeling now’ is a solid addition to Charli’s discography, stronger than I anticipated and better for me than ‘Charli’ was. Although it goes slightly flat in the middle, the opening is brilliant, and the final two songs are so good it feels like the lights came on at the club a bit too early. If only the energy of the finale was harnessed throughout the whole album. It’s worth a listen, but don’t expect anything new from Charli.

Individual track ratings:
pink diamond – 10/10
forever – 7/10
claws – 8/10
7 years – 5/10
detonate – 7/10
enemy – 6/10
i finally understand – 8/10
c2.0 – 8/10
party 4 u – 6/10
anthems – 9/10
visions – 10/10
TOTAL: 76.4/100

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