Album Review: Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion

‘Call Me Maybe’ was, like it or otherwise, song of the summer 2012. Me personally; I was an ‘otherwise.’ While Jepsen seemed refreshingly humble alongside a circus of media-savvy peers and the song was essentially catchy – it was just too glossy and obnoxious to be particularly likeable. And that’s about all you can talk about when it comes to Jepsen – the hit’s accompanying album Kiss didn’t produce another smash and its deep cuts were deeply forgettable. With nothing but radio silence since then it seemed she was destined to become a footnote in pop music history. But alas here she is again, with one of the year’s best summer records, and definitely its biggest surprise.

Media coverage of Emotion so far has been highly positive but has mostly focussed on the fact that it came out of nowhere from that ‘Call Me Maybe’ girl; from someone on Justin Bieber’s label no less. But it’s wrong to ruminate on how surprising the quality of this record is, because this album coming from Carly Rae Jepsen is not that big of a surprise… ‘Call Me Maybe’ was.

Jepsen historically seems to have cared most for folk music – her first record before being discovered by Scooter Braun was a sweet and largely acoustic affair called Tug of War. She cites her influences as being Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison. When she performed ‘Call Me Maybe’ she’d avoid pop bombast and do it alone on a chair with a guitar. It’s hard to imagine that she felt her smash hit was the pinnacle of her career and indeed it’s no surprise that this album takes a much more creative direction – with production from more indie spheres with the likes of Devonte Hynes and Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij. Justin Bieber meanwhile has been demoted to ‘executive’ producer and it tells, because unlike his work this record is packed top to toe with great songs.

Emotion isn’t the biggest surprise from Carly Rae Jepsen, ‘Call Me Maybe’ was

Sonically Emotion can’t help but be trendy because it partakes in the hottest style around round now; 80’s electro-pop call-backs. It’s what Taylor Swift did on her mammoth record 1989; although this is a much better album than that hit-or-miss release. Jepsen and co. have a greater ear for melody and never let the aesthetic get in the way of songwriting in the same way Swift did. It’s not like this isn’t a fluffy pop release: it doesn’t innovate, it doesn’t push boundaries – but it is a great set of songs.

‘Run Away With Me’ sets the tone with some very rhythmic synth horns, while the title track which follows pulls back on the electro-worship with some ear grabbing guitar work and an intoxicating break down in the rear. ‘All That’ is a rather enchanting ballad with some tight bass slaps and a gentle 8-bit descent before the vocals kick in. Jepsen has a great voice and it’s amazing how versatile it is – it works on groovy electronic beats ala Janet Jackson such as ‘LA Hallucinations’ but also more huskily on ‘live’ cuts like this one. ‘Boy Problems’ meanwhile is a tongue-in-cheek jab at the sort of songs everyone expects to make up the tracklist of an album from an artist like Jepsen; “I broke up with my boyfriend but I don’t really care- I’ve got worse problems” she shrugs, over a j-pop flavoured foot-tapping rhythm.

It’s not like Jepsen isn’t entirely adverse to the whims of the highly commercial artist that she is. Lead single ‘I Really Like You’ (you know; the Tom Hanks one) definitely tips way too far into the cutesy territory – it’s not like the instrumental isn’t fine but I really wish she’d have found some better words to put into that hook. I guess the teenage girl market is the one she cornered best last time; but they deserve better than that. ‘LA Hallucinations’ too has one of the albums weaker hooks, and talks too much about shopping for me to give a care. The wordiest track here though, ‘Making The Most of The Night’, is the most electronically driven on the record, and commits to the electro-pop promise more firmly than anyone since La Roux.

Lead single ‘I Really Like You’ definitely tips way too far into the cutesy territory

‘Your Type’ is probably the best song on the album because it hits the sweetest mix of 80’s electro-pop sentimentality and refreshing song writing; the hook “I’m not going to pretend that I’m the type of girl you’d call more than a friend’ is intensely catchy, and sweet in the way it takes bravery to be in 2015’s pop circuit. When pop big hitters include the likes of Jason Derulo, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna; brave pop music now means the reverse of the lustful suggestiveness which broke out in the 80’s – this record sees a hark back even further than that to 60’s classics like The Angel’s ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ and The Crystal’s ‘Then He Kissed Me’; and Jepsen pulls off the girl-next-door image sincerely and completely here.

Closing track ‘When I Needed You’ is an indelible closer which cements the song writing ability displayed throughout Emotion’s runtime. It’s not an album that’s going to change the world, but to those who’d given up on the most commercial of performers putting out quality LPs it is a shake to the shoulders, and definitely a rewarding listen to those with an open mind.

Liam Inscoe – Jones

Liam is currently listening to ‘Zulu Tolstoy’ by Billy Woods

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Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham's IMPACT Magazine.

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