Carly Rae Jepsen proved to be one of the most unexpectedly fascinating figures in pop music last year. Emotion, her follow up to 2012 smash breakthrough Kiss, proved to be one of the year’s most lauded releases, even if its commercial performance lagged. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long to find out if Jepsen’s artistic resurgence was a fluke.
Just over a year after the release of Emotion, Carly Rae has blessed us with Emotion: Side B – a collection of songs that didn’t make the cut, but are just as worthy of praise.
If you come to our site with any regularity, you know that I’ve written ad nauseum about Jepsen’s unassuming brilliance and won’t be surprised that I find this latest release one of the most satisfying moments of 2016. Emotion: Side B is littered with pop gold and is a testament to Jepsen’s aptitude for writing killer songs. How is it possible that eight songs that didn’t make the cut for her last album are still better than 90 percent of what’s playing on pop radio?
“First Time” opens the release in Madonna-esque fashion, fully bathed the 80s influence that peppered Emotion. Over popping synthesizers, Carly Rae delivers the most Carly Rae chorus imaginable: “When my heart breaks, it always feels like the first time / If you stay here, we could kiss away the goodbye”. Mere moments into the first track, Emotion: Side B throws caution to the wind, dropping any pretense of self-seriousness.
Carefree indulgence continues on “Higher”, a song so damn good it’s hard to imagine why it was cut from Emotion. “You take me higher than the rest / Everybody else is second best / You pulled a gem out of the mess / I was so cynical before, I must confess”, Jespen belts during the song’s grand chorus. It’s another pulsing homage to 80s pop that sounds as though it wouldn’t have felt out of place on the soundtrack of Drive.
“Fever” is a moody song that works as the answer to “All That”, the Hot A/C track that felt slightly out of place on Emotion. “Body Language” is the dance-y sibling of “Let’s Get Lost” and finds its footing during a sizzling chorus: “Body language will do the trick / If you stay with me tonight, then we’ll talk it over”. Each track on Side B could easily fit within Emotion without causing much of a fuss, with the sole exception being the fairly uninspired “Store”.
Emotion: Side B is a delightful treat for Jepsen’s fans, who have become enthusiastic grassroots promoters of an underdog artist. It’s also validation for those of us who sang the praises of Emotion without irony and argued for the value of pop music as a self-aware salve. Jepsen holds the unique ability of bridging the gap between indie pretentiousness and mainstream inclusiveness – happily typecast, but delightfully surprising.
In short, Emotion: Side B is the irony-free pop music we needed in 2016. It’s also a pretty nice holdover as we eagerly await whatever comes next.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.