Phoebe Bridgers is probably my favourite musician of the last 5 years. So when a press release found its way into our inbox comparing an artist to not only Pheobe, but also other favourites of mine such as Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten, it was always likely to pique my interest. It’s also a pretty big claim, though, considering how strong those three acts have all been in recent years. These comparisons definitely drew me in to Charli Adams and her debut album Bullseye, but they probably also meant that I was likely to judge the album much more harshly if it didn’t come close to those high bars.
That’s how things started at least. There is a definite hint of Phoebe in Charli’s vocals at times, but the album is a totally different beast to Punisher or Stranger In The Alps. Bullseye is, at heart, a pure pop album. My previously snobby attitude towards pop has definitely been knocked on the head in recent years, but when I first listened to Bullseye it definitely felt a little too sugary for me.
If I hadn’t been reviewing it, I probably would have stopped there. And in that sentence I sum up one of the biggest and most obvious problems with the streaming era and the amount of music at our fingertips these days. Because if I had stopped, I would have missed out on an album that I really like. Yes, Bullseye is incredibly sugary at times – but so is chocolate cake. And I love chocolate cake.
The word sugary, when applied to music, probably has a few meanings though. It can mean sweet, touching, heartfelt, and/or extremely emotional. Bullseye is all of these things. But it can also mean that the music is without substance, and that is definitely not an accusation I would level at any of the Charli Adams songs on offer here. Whether it’s pop bangers like ‘Get High w/ My Friends’ or ‘JOKE’S ON YOU (I Don’t Want To)’ or mournful ballads like ‘Headspace’, ‘Maybe Could Have Loved’, or the title song, Adams always shows herself to be a thoughtful songwriter with a lot to say. Whether its mental health, loss, or relationships, she offers plenty of insight inside her catchy tunes. Of the songs mentioned here, ‘JOKE’S ON YOU (I Don’t Want To)’ is probably the most powerful. A feminist fightback against being told to ‘sit down and look pretty’, Adams tells us she has ‘better things to do.’ And she shows that by writing a whole album of great songs, too.
‘Didn’t Make It’ is the absolute standout song here, though, and it was definitely the one that first made me doubt my initial disappointment. It’s just a great, simple, involving song. I can see some of the comparisons from the press release in this one, but it is as if Charli has found a way to put the cool indie sound of those artists together with a pop sensibility that might help her find her audience. ‘Cheer Captain’ achieves something similar. All of these songs come together to show an interesting and exciting artist who doesn’t rest easily in any one genre, and who might need a bit of growing time for anyone who thinks they only want a pop, indie, folk, or modern-country album. This has elements of them all.
I am twenty-odd listens into this album now, and will definitely keep listening once I have finished reviewing. Once I shed the comparisons from the press release, I was able to appreciate Charli Adams on her own merits. And that’s what she deserves, so I hope you’ll all do the same.
Words by Fran Slater