Four years is a long time to wait between albums. While fans clamor for new music, artists risk losing cultural cachet. This is, of course, inherently dumb because time is a flat circle and, also, art doesn’t work on a schedule. Nevertheless, the antiquated expectation is a real thing. Just maybe not so much for Carly Rae Jepsen.
In the four years since the one-time one hit wonder reinvented herself with 2015’s Emotion (my personal favorite album of the decade so far), Jepsen has become meme-able in the best of ways. Her newfound niche fanbase has found community in her quirky pop and personality, often inciting viral moments to spread the good news.
It helps that Jepsen has offered up appetizers in the form of 2016’s Emotion: Side B, 2017’s summer single “Cut to the Feeling” and last year’s new-album-primer “Party for One”. Even when she was on hiatus, it never really felt like she was gone.
But here we are – finally – with a new full-length album called Dedicated. To cut right to the chase, Dedicated does not match the masterful execution of Emotion, but it’s a hell of a fun pop record. Whereas Emotion found synchronicity in theme and sound, Dedicated reads more as a collection tried-and-true tactics and delightful experiments. When you write more than 100 songs leading up to a record, they may not all live in harmony, but the best of the crop are fairly certain to be good.
Unsurprisingly, Jepsen has already shared the obvious singles to quench our expectations – light, bubbly pop anthems with big hooks. “Now That I Found You” is the “I Really Like You” of Dedicated, an easy anchor to draw us in. Similarly, “Too Much” and “No Drug Like Me” fit the bill for heart-on-her-sleeve Jepsen material, equally catchy and eccentric. Where Dedicated really excels, though, is when she leans into experimentation and allows herself to get a little weird.
“Want You in My Room” is a great example, proving that the Jepsen/Jack Antonoff partnership is just as fresh as when it began. A track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the last Bleachers record, “Want You in My Room” matches deep bass and organic instrumentation with Jepsen’s breath-y delivery of lines like, “I’ll press you to the pages of my heart”. It’s everything fans of Carly already love about her, freshened up with new sounds and tempos that sound specifically built for Summer 2019.
Similarly, “Happy Not Knowing” uses the sonic building blocks of Emotion to achieve something new, coupling shoegaze guitar licks with the synth sounds we’ve come to know so well. It’s also peak CRJ in the best way, honing in on those feelings of longing and the insecurities that keeps us from acting on them: “I don’t have the energy / To risk a broken heart / When you’re already killing me”.
“The Sound” lays a tinkling piano behind the synthesizers while “Automatically in Love” finds Jepsen experimenting with pitch and pace to create a fantastic chorus to match the most Carly Rae song title in history. All of the new pieces seem to come together on “Feels Right”, where the partnering of Jepsen and Electric Guest results in one of Dedicated’s highlights.
On the whole, Dedicated feels like the output of an artist who has earned the opportunity to test some new waters without losing even one iota of who she is, allowing her to stay firmly in her own wheelhouse while still creating something new. What a treat for fans that identify so deeply with her penchant for leaning hard into her feelings.
At a time when it feels more enticing than ever to disengage, Jepsen invites us to do the opposite without ever sounding forced or cheesy. Just listen to the lyrics of “Too Much” and try not to smile: “So be careful if you’re wanting this touch / ‘Cause if I love you, then I love you too much”. At every step, Jepsen reminds us that it’s good to feel completely and without shame or fear. It’s likely what keeps her from ascending back into the upper echelon of pop music, but it’s something that makes her music so much better and refreshing.
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.