There isn’t a better snapshot of living through coronavirus than Charli XCX’s ‘How I’m Feeling Now’. An album made in isolation, it sees the alt-pop icon work virtually with long time collaborators BJ Burton and A.G. Cook as well as take advice from a fanbase going through exactly the same thing. Even isolated, Charli celebrates community and collaboration.
When the project was announced six weeks ago, the world at large seemed to believe this global pandemic would quickly blow over and life would get back to normal overnight. How wrong we all were. Now things like live music and mass gatherings are unlikely to return this side of Christmas, and we have no idea when we’ll be able to hug our parents or meet our mates for a pint. That journey of hope, despair, resignation, rinse and repeat is a cycle we’re all currently locked in. It freewheels through ‘How I’m Feeling Now’, a raging bull of industrial breakdowns, emotional turmoil and small pleasures.
There are roof-raising moments of classic XCX, the aggressive dance of opener of ‘pink diamond’ is an urgent blitz of resilience that goes hard then harder while ‘c2.0’ is a swirling remix of the fiery ‘Charli’ track ‘Click’. ‘Party 4 U’ is a starry-eyed party for two, a spot-lit slow dance while the room melts away and the closing ‘visions’ is a viciously outrageous rave track that holds nothing back. But for the most part ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ takes the vulnerability that started with ‘Charli’ and digs deeper. It’s “Pop 2’s frantic emo younger sister.”
‘detonate’ is full of self-loathing, with Charli sure that she’s about to blow up the relationship while the bouncing ‘I finally understand’ flips the script and sees her convinced that love is going to be the death of her. She makes no bones about how tough she’s finding things. “My therapist said I hate myself really bad,” she sings on ‘I Finally Understand’, while ‘Enemy’ samples a voice note that says, “It’s a tough journey to be on whilst you’re around other people.”
‘anthems’ is a driving stream of conscious that deals with waking up bored, buying shit online and losing yourself in television with the niggling belief that this experience might be good for you. ‘Claws’ captures the moment you look over at your partner three hours into another Come Dine With Me marathon and realise that there’s nowhere else you’d rather be.
Yes, it’s a lockdown album (the first of presumably many), but it’s much bigger than this singular moment in time. It has something to offer, something to say beyond being a brief distraction. Across ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ Charli rages with depression, anxiety, uncertainty, love and peace. Full of chaotic energy, it captures lightning in a bottle. It gives the fears of a generation a powerful voice, but never lets them win.