“CollXtion II is about the loss and reclamation of one’s identity” is the opening line of X’s ‘XPLANATION: COLLXTION II’ YouTube video.
Allie X, born Alexandra Ashley Hughes has defined herself in an interview with radio.com as “Harajuku-Salem-Mormon School-Girl Goth,” and is a synthpop/electropop singer-songwriter.
X originally rose to prominence after her single “Catch” charted on the Canadian Hot 100, peaking at number 55.
Besides working on her solo music endeavors X has worked with Troye Sivan on his album Blue Neighbourhood, co-writing on seven songs including two of the albums’ three singles “Talk Me Down” and “Youth”.
CollXtion II is a vulnerable eclectic synth-pop album, and the first studio release under the identity of ‘Allie X’. CollXtion II was released after CollXtion II: Ʉnsolved was released as a collection of demos in order to shortlist songs for CollXtion II.
The first song and first single from CollXtion II “Paper Love,” is mid-tempo and takes two concepts known to work and integrates them perfectly:
1) an unbelievably earworm whistle;
2) a catchy guitar riff (something that features later on the album as well).
Production wise, there is a minimal dancehall type build that quickly becomes fuller, and by the middle, to end of the chorus there is a drop that reintroduces that catchy whistle with the echoes of “Paper Love” being repeated. The guitar riff used in this song really pulls all the elements together well.
In the chorus X sings:
“Oh, I know that boy’s gonna rip me up
‘Cause he ain’t that nice, he won’t do right
He’ll leave a nasty cut.”
In an ‘XPLANATION‘ video on her YouTube-channel X says paper love is about “the kind of love that is too fragile and violent to work but still feels smooth and sexy and sharp and you can’t help going forward with it.”
“Vintage” the second song on the album shows clear influences from Troye Sivan from the get-go, making it no surprise he features as a co-writer.
With an instrumental after the second chorus that at first might take getting used to, the song shows forward thinking in her synthpop production style which is crazy smooth and Max-Martin-esque.
With her usual hook-filled songs this song starts off with the chorus, introducing the hook afterward which may be one of my favorite hooks on the album. This song at first listen makes for an instant favorite.
“I need someone to love me right
Who will give me peace of mind
Who gon’ be there day and night
Which she then ends with an almost-bratty “uh huh,” that is repeated after most parts of the song.
She stated on her Twitter that “Vintage” was the hardest song for her to write and that she spent around two years to find the right approach for the song.
As “Vintage” fades out with a “uh huh,” “Need You” drops which as a listener you can instantly tell will be a ballad.
“Need You” is the second single and has vocals from Valley Girl.
Showing longing in the lyrics, X sings:
“Hey, where’d you go?
We used to be friends
We used to be close
Hey, why’d you leave?
I used to need you
You used to need me.”
The second part of this verse serves as the hook-line chorus “I don’t need you” which later becomes “no, I don’t need you,” an unconvincing plea and false mantra.
Originally when the song dropped as a single the vocoder (voice synthesizer) felt overwhelming, but after a few more listens actually made the song stand out – where instead of overzealous production that would ruin the ballad-nature, the stripped-down beat brought the vulnerable lyrics to the forefront.
In the ‘NEED YOU: XPLANATION’ video, X states that “Need You” was the last song to make it for the album and originated as a general writing session that led to the song being finished in just a day.
“Casanova,” a production-wise standout has a post-chorus that you didn’t think could top the already killer-chorus.
The beat drop on the post-chorus shows X’s venture into electronic dance and has a bassline that could be played in a club.
“Casanova” was originally mostly piano and more ballad-like but was remastered for CollXtion II. Although the piano can still be heard in the build of the song it’s quickly replaced by that drop-dead-drop with the lyrics:
“You’re no Casanova
Got to let you go
Hit me on my blind side
Left me on the floor
Now I can see the bright light
Body getting cold
There’s something ’bout your touch that
I can’t leave alone”
These lyrics indicates her love-affair with a “heavenly creature” that “f*cked her over” and left her dying for love – an excellent theme for a song this good.
“Lifted,” the next song on the album seems to be a fan-favourite, the ‘CollXtion II – Out Now‘ YouTube video which features the entire album has positive comments referring to this song in particular.
The song starts stripped with a horn-like sound belting that’s repeated in the interlude. As the first verse enters the main guitar riff plays and is carried throughout the song, but feels like it sways along with the lyrics which is the core part of that island feel. This guitar riff style reminds one of “Paper Love,” but hey – if a sound works it works.
X stated in a tweet “Lifted is a song about kinda saying f*ck it to everything and just, um, I guess getting high in whatever way you get high and just letting things pass by.”
The chorus sings:
“We get high up on the low down
Every day spinning like a merry-go-round
All we want is to forget.”
The song has parts that are anthemic making this song the one I find myself most often humming to.
“Simon Says” lyrically and vocally reminds me remarkably of Melanie Martinez, but that’s perhaps due to the theme being about an imaginary friend – something I feel would fit on Cry Baby. That’s not to mention the chorus exit that has a “hey, ha, ha, ha”.
The pre-chorus is one of the most vulnerable, X sings:
“My mom says I’ll fade away
Sister says that she’s scared
My dad says I let him down
But I don’t care.”
The chorus enters with a production bang with big clap-like bashes throughout and ends with that “Hey, ha, ha, ha”. The song’s production feels futuristic with beep like synths and the vocoder that transforms X’s voice to suit just that sound.
Although the song enters with an odd synthesized noise that at first listen made me cringe, this song like most of X’s songs is truly catchy – mostly thanks to that repetitive “na-na-na-na-na-na”.
As “Old Habits Die Hard” enters as the seventh song you can instantly tell it’s been remastered significantly compared to the 2016 version, with the newer version much more stripped and the vocals more centered. Personally, I prefer the 2016 version. I can’t help but wonder if the remaster was an attempt to make the song more radio-friendly.
“What I like about you baby
Is how you annoy me daily
But you still f*cking amaze me
That’s so us! That’s so us!”
“Old Habits Die Hard” still feels like an instant radio-ready hit.
“Downtown,” the second last song on the album feels almost R&B at stages and reminds me of early Gwen Stefani. The song refers to being addicted to someone toxic, as X sings:
“Take me downtown
Use my body all night
Make me feel like last time
Make it taste like love.”
This song really slows things down as the album starts coming to an end.
“True Love is Violent,” the album-closer enters with piano and features vocals that really showcase X’s ability.
Despite that, however, the song feels like it hasn’t been finished yet and reminds me of the original acoustic version of “Casanova” but with some synth.
I find it difficult to see how this song fits on the album, although the R&B-ish feel X seems to be going for is introduced in the previous song, the first chorus feels early 2000’s and feels like a step back compared to the albums overall forward-thinking production.
The second time the chorus comes around the sound is fuller which perhaps feels more like the rest of the album, but I don’t think it remains true to it – especially when the bridge enters and the song feels like it belongs on a Disney Princess movie soundtrack.
The song remains a nice close to the album though, and I enjoy that it shows X’s vocal ability which is beyond remarkable.
And in a mere 35 minutes, the album comes to a close.
By the end of CollXtion II the idea of “feeling X” has a new meaning. Entering into vulnerability which is debatably one of the harder things X has had to deal with, insight into this pop star’s mind has been a labyrinth of an adventure.
Stand out songs: