Review: Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated

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.

You can buy or stream Dedicated on Apple Music.

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.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

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Carly Rae Jepsen’s Gimmie Love Tour Shines Bright

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The Madison Theater is a diamond in the rough – a unique, historic venue in Covington, Kentucky, resting just south of the Ohio River in the long shadow of downtown Cincinnati. While not the most exclusive or celebrated concert hall in the area, it serves as an unsuspecting intimate setting with its own quirky style and layout.

On this night, these distinctive characteristics make it the perfect location for one of pop music’s most underrated and overlooked artists: Carly Rae Jepsen.

When I reviewed Emotion, the latest release from Jepsen, last August, I was still grappling with how much I enjoyed the record. Stepping out from underneath the piercing glow of “Call Me Maybe” was challenging for many music fans, but the light on the other side has proved to be even more enjoyable and lasting than another quick fix. Emotion has shattered expectations, becoming one of the most lauded pop albums in recent years.

In the time since its release, Emotion has appeared to gain steam due to its inclusion on countless end-of-the-year lists, Jepsen’s various TV and radio appearances, and word of mouth promotion from fans convinced of the record’s merit. Interestingly enough, Jepsen’s current Gimmie Love Tour serves not as a reintroduction to the artist we met four summers ago, but as a validation of her status as one of the most likable and unsung pop singers on the planet.

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Cardiknox

Setting the table on this tour is Cardiknox, a surprisingly powerful synthpop act that recently released their debut album, Portrait, and appear to be taking full advantage of this opportunity. Vocalist Lonnie Angle has the stage presence of a veteran singer and commands the crowd’s attention. By the second song of the band’s set, the crowd is bouncing and singing along to the infectious chorus of “On My Way”.

This lively set proves to be the perfect primer for Carly Rae’s own brand of synth-driven power pop. Taking the stage to the slick saxophone intro to “Run Away with Me”, Jepsen dives right into her best and most astonishingly overlooked track. It’s clear from the get go that the vast majority of the crowd in Covington has little longing for “Call Me Maybe” – the fans belt out every note of the chorus, nearly drowning out Jepsen’s voice.

It’s exceedingly rare that an entire night lives up to those electric opening moments when the main act takes the stage, but this performance is a communal one from start to finish. During the course of her 19-song set, Carly plays every song from Emotion (bonus tracks included), along with standouts from 2012’s Kiss. Never once does the buzz die down or the crowd become disinterested. Instead, they sing and dance along in unison.

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Carly Rae Jepsen

Looking around the venue, it’s a diverse gathering. With the event falling on St. Patrick’s Day, many don green as they hold a drink and dance to the music. Smiles abound and the vast majority of the crowd seems to know the lyrics to almost every song. In fact, the night’s most rousing moments come with the performance of random tracks from Emotion like “Gimmie Love” and “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance”, which elicit just as much energy from the crowd as more well known hits like “Good Time”. Perhaps the infectious nature of Emotion is finally spreading.

Jepsen’s stage presence matches her artistic persona – she appears full of joy and giddy excitement, but seems uninterested relishing the spotlight. Her performance feels akin to a friend singing along with you to your favorite song during a car ride, an act that seems natural and deeply familiar. It’s hard not to smile and nearly impossible to disconnect from the delight of those around you.

Carly shares relatable stories of heartbreak and longing before tracks like “Boy Problems” and “Tonight I’m Getting Over You” but invites everyone to brush it all off with “Let’s Get Lost” and “This Kiss”. No matter the subject, bright melodies, pulsing synthesizers and flashing lights keep the energy upbeat and the room jumping. By the time “Call Me Maybe” and “I Really Like You” crash through the speakers, the crowd is already on an emotional high.

Last year, I privately wondered whether the initial neon shock of Emotion would easily wear off over time. Nearly eight months later, I’m enjoying the record more than ever. There’s a very real shelf life in the world of pop radio – something Jepsen is acutely aware of. In 2015, certain pop mainstays managed to cast a convenient shadow over one of the year’s most critically acclaimed records, but Carly Rae’s ability to sidestep a potential drop off and barrel forward with the best music of her career has proved admirable. That she navigates an often dark and crooked business with a smile and a shrug, inviting us all to a much brighter point of view, is something even better.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

Review: Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion

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Since the dawn of time, mankind has wrestled with the meaning of pop music. There are certainly moments when a pop song digs deep at our innermost fears and speaks to our soul in the most inexplicable of ways. At other times, it serves as the butt of our jokes and the catalyst for us to throw caution to the wind at a friend’s wedding and dance the night away.

Perhaps pop music is at its best when it falls somewhere in the middle – defying logic by its mere presence, yet offering comfort as the soundtrack to an assortment of life’s memories. Canadian star Carly Rae Jepsen not only struck gold with “Call Me Maybe” in 2012 in terms of commercial success, but also managed to find the perfect balance of sincerity and unabashed youthful indulgence. What are the chances that lighting could strike twice?

You can buy Emotion on iTunes.

You can buy Emotion on iTunes.

Jepsen’s new album, Emotion (stylized as E·MO·TION), doesn’t have a “Call Me Maybe” – and that’s actually a good thing. Instead, her follow up to 2012’s Kiss is very clearly a statement of authenticity and a personal reflection of Jepsen as an artist. The fact that it’s blanketed in sugary-sweet 80s-inspired pop is just icing on an already delicious cake.

If Emotion doesn’t float your boat stylistically, there’s nothing wrong with you – this sort of over-the-top extravaganza isn’t for everyone. However, it’s impossible to deny just how catchy these songs are. Jepsen has already proven her ability to combine bubblegum flavor with innocent ponderings on life and relationships, but her new album takes the entire approach to new heights.

Opener “Run Away With Me” is not only a microcosm of Emotion as a whole, it might be the best song Jepsen has written. The pulsing synthesizers, thumping bass line and sporadic claps scream of the album’s 80s influences. Whereas Taylor Swift splashed drops of the decade onto last year’s 1989, Jepsen dives in headfirst. Her surprisingly sultry lyrics of “Oh baby, take me to the feeling / I’ll be your sinner in secret / When the lights go out / Run away with me” brush away the lingering hints of “Maybe”.

Jepsen shows flashes of influence throughout the album from a number of 80s power pop stars. The album’s title track channels Like a Prayer-era Madonna with a soaring chorus, while “Let’s Get Lost” feels like a Janet Jackson hit. Her wonderfully playful chorus of “Baby let’s go get lost / I like the way that you’re driving slow / Keeping my fingers crossed / That maybe you’ll take the long way home” is vintage-Carly Rae in 2015.

The closest Jepsen comes to the explosiveness of “Maybe” is with “I Really Like You”, a single released almost six months before the album that now feels like a stowaway aboard Emotion. It’s still catchy as hell, but it almost feels like the primer for the rest of the record. Nevertheless, those programmed drums and the song’s massive pre-chorus of, “It’s way too soon, I know this isn’t love” still pop with just as much energy as ever.

When Carly Rae is at her best, she’s able to turn potential train wrecks like “Boy Problems” into thrilling roller coaster rides. A cord-twirling phone call with a friend about boy trouble lags deeply in the lyrical department, but somehow still turns out to be one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album thanks to an incredible melody and an almost audible wink at the camera. The same formula works on “Your Type”, Jepsen’s answer to Swift’s “Blank Space”.

Nevertheless, it’s nearly impossible to throw a perfect game when your only pitch is a fastball. Jepsen tries her hand at a ballad in the form of “All That” but comes up short. The plucking electric guitar and starfall synthesizers come off as cheesy, while the slow pace of the song feels uncomfortably forced. “LA Hallucinations” attempts to tackle the dark side of being an overnight success, but lines like, “Money makes your whole world spin” and references to “Buzzfeed buzzards and TMZ crows” land painfully awkward. Maybe introspection is best saved for tracks that aren’t backed by Nintendo sounds.

Still, a few scattered wild pitches can’t distract from the overall body of work. Emotion could very easily have fallen flat, leaving Jepsen as a forgettable one-hit wonder. Instead, her new album solidifies her as a pop powerhouse at a time when it’s harder than ever to stand out amidst the muddied radio crowd. If Carly Rae’s ability to come off as genuine while driving a glistening vehicle normally reserved for the counterfeit becomes her legacy, it’s not a bad one to have. That seems like the kind of pop music we can all enjoy.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.