Reviewing “CHARLIE” and the Stages of Heartbreak

Photo by Vicente Villasenor

Jacob Khuu

Senior Staff Writer

It’s everything that Gen Z is obsessed with — a mixture of formulaic soft pop and wistful lyrics about toxic relationships all hyped up this past year by clips on TikTok. CHARLIE, Charlie Puth’s third studio album, debuted on Oct. 7, reminding us once again that absolute pitch and heartbreak do indeed exist. 

The album is structured around a fictional character’s romantic relationship, which sours as he begins to see the manipulative nature of his presumably perfect partner. The songs are ordered to mimic the following stages of heartbreak: anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Each song also follows a generic pop song pattern of a hook, chorus, verse, and chorus, which made the album easy to advertise on TikTok in the months leading up to its release. 

The first song, “That’s Hilarious,” begins with a slow-paced hook that describes the character’s disdain for the time he spent in a relationship with a “delirious” partner. As it progresses, aggressive instrumentals and a sample of fake laughing are added to the background, improving its complexity and underscoring the true, indignant nature of the song. The song also serves as a vindictive prelude to the rest of the album, given that the character seems to find pleasure in mocking his former flame’s request to rekindle.

The following three songs, “Charlie Be Quiet,” “Light Switch,” and “There’s a First Time for Everything,” encapsulate the character’s first romance, from trying to get out of the friend zone to going through a first breakup. The latter two songs share a funky aesthetic which makes them feel almost indistinguishable from each other, aside from a slight change in instrumentals and the signature light switch sound effect. 

“Smells Like Me” marks the end of the love story and seems like a nonchalant attack on the character’s former partner. For those only listening for Puth’s flawless voice and the melodically pleasing beat, the song seems like a heartfelt farewell. It has a catchy hook that sounds romantic during a first listen; but in actuality, the hook is a jealous remark that the character makes about his former partner. He hopes that his former partner remains obsessed and heartbroken about him.

Ironically, the character seems to feel exactly what he wished upon his former partner: a sense of longing and nostalgia for the memories of his romance. This is expressed in “Left and Right” and “Loser,” in which Puth exhibits his musical prowess by creating unique hooks. In the former, surround sound is utilized to emulate the “left and right” chorus of the song, while in the latter, Puth uses end rhyme in his catchy hook, “Oh I’m such a loser, how did I ever lose her?” 

Puth returns to his specialty of a slow-paced cadence and high-pitched choruses in “When You’re Sad I’m Sad” and “Tears on My Piano.” These pieces bring balance to the rest of the album, which is less sentimental and more fast-paced. The album ends with “No More Drama,” which has a refreshed and relaxed melody that emphasizes the character’s newfound clarity post-heartbreak.

For avid Puth listeners, this album feels like a breath of fresh air because Puth tends to compose in a slow-paced, R&B-esque fashion for most of his songs. His previous album Voicenotes is filled with emotionally charged, somber songs that share a similar theme of heartbreak with this album. However, there is less song diversity and creativity in Voicenotes than in CHARLIE. There is a clear connection between the songs in CHARLIE as it weaves a small story in a linear fashion throughout the album, but the songs in Voicenotes are only related by their solemn mood and passive aggressive tone. 

Puth’s creativity in CHARLIE felt in songs such as “Light Switch,” “Left and Right,” “Charlie Be Quiet,” and “That’s Hilarious,” overshadows that of Voicenotes. In these tracks, Puth added a unique musical background effect or cadence that referenced the song titles, whereas in his previous album’s tracks, he only directly references the song titles in his lyrics. This album is a testament to Puth’s growth as a singer and producer, as well as a major improvement from his previous album Voicenotes.

Overall Rating: 8/10