A second dose
Canadian pop songstress Carly Rae Jepsen first rode to fame earlier this decade on the back of her mega-hit “Call Me Maybe” and its accompanying album Kiss. While her follow-up album Emotion in 2015 was a commercial disappointment, the record made Jepsen a favorite of the indie crowd, with its ’80s nostalgia and lovelorn lyrics. Jepsen returns with Dedicated, her first album of fresh studio recordings since Emotion.
Dedicated inhabits the same sonic space as Emotion – a mix of ’80s and modern styles of dance-pop and synthpop. The styles of the two albums are so similar that songs like “Now That I Found You” and “The Sound” on Dedicated would fit snugly into the Emotion track listing. While both albums revolve almost exclusively around love, the lyrics are indeed where the two albums separate themselves.
Up until now, Jepsen had been writing about unstable relationships – chasing after a crush or pining over love lost – through a youthful, innocent lens. On Dedicated, Jepsen finds herself in a mature, functional relationship on songs like “No Drug Like Me” and “Everything He Needs.” Jepsen also loses the good-girl image she has crafted up until this point; now Jepsen feels comfortable singing about her lust and sexual capers. Rather than a sudden change of character, however, the shift in perspective feels like a natural maturation in Jepsen’s writing. This is because Jepsen incorporates love-making into the larger picture of a relationship, rather than indiscriminately making it a focal point.
Dedicated opens with “Julien,” ascribed by Jepsen as the centerpiece of the album. The song sounds fantastic, with wuh-wuh synth leads and clicking castanets placed with precision on the hook. The buildup from verse to pre-chorus to hook is executed perfectly. Perhaps the hook and the song as a whole run a little too long, but apart from that, “Julien” is a brilliant addition to Jepsen’s catalog.
She keeps up the quality for the next few tracks. “No Drug Like Me” is sensual synthpop, complete with thick synth-bass. “Now That I Found You” is a well-written, well-constructed electropop banger. “Want You In My Room” turns up the 80s nostalgia to eleven, complete with a saxophone outro. Jepsen sings like a cheerleader shouting at a high school rally. The surprising directness of the song’s lustful lyrics confirms the end of Jepsen’s wholesome girl-next-door persona. “Want You In My Room” glides smoothly into the nocturnal track “Everything He Needs.” From the watery chipmunk vocals and sound effects to the quaint piano-and-drum beat, the track feels like it could be the soundtrack to an old silent detective noir film, where one wet night, Jepsen and her handsome love interest, dressed in trench coats and fedoras, take a smooth ride through the deserted streets in a 1948 Hudson Commodore.
The album gets spottier after this point, although there are still some gems. “Happy Not Knowing,” a song in which Jepsen is crushing on a guy but is afraid of making a move, features the funny line “I’m sure it’s nothing but some heartburn.” Jepsen sounds genuinely worked up over her feelings. “Party for One,” the lead single and closer of the album, has an immensely catchy hook and works as an effective albeit ham-fisted conclusion to the album. However, there are several duds as well. Songs like “For Sure” and “Automatically in Love” have undercooked hooks, dull melodies and uninteresting production choices that don’t add to the sound palette of the album. “Real Love” might be the worst song on the album, mainly due to the caterwauling vocals. Jepsen opts to deliver her lyrics in a wild, manic style, perhaps meant to display franticness or desperation. However, these emotions are neither earned nor conveyed very well. Besides the vocals, the lyrics feel disjointed, and the synth-horn on the hook is annoying.
Another issue with the album is that instrumentals and lyrics don’t pop like they did on Emotion. The instrumentals are muted and faded, like the cover art. The songs this time around are more slow-burners than head-bangers. Jepsen coos more and belts less. As a result, Dedicated is a decidedly quieter album than Emotion. Jepsen is trying to make her music a tad more sophisticated and mature, so these are not necessarily faults in the long run; however, at the moment it results in a slightly underwhelming successor to Emotion.
All in all, Dedicated is a solid pop album. Jepsen continues to have great taste in instrumentals that fuse ’80s and modern sensibilities. Jepsen continues to write well-constructed love songs that remain refreshingly authentic and heartfelt. Hook-writing and songwriting are an issue, as well as production choices. Despite the flaws, Dedicated is a worthwhile and enjoyable pop listen.