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Friday, February 24, 2017

Carly Rae Jepsen: Emotion


1) Run Away With Me; 2) Emotion; 3) I Really Like You; 4) Gimmie Love; 5) All That; 6) Boy Problems; 7) Making The Most Of The Night; 8) Your Type; 9) Let's Get Lost; 10) LA Hallucinations; 11) Warm Blood; 12) When I Needed You; 13*) Black Heart; 14*) I Didn't Just Come Here To Dance; 15*) Favourite Colour; 16*) Never Get To Hold You; 17*) Love Again; 18*) I Really Like You (Liam Keegan remix); 19*) Take A Picture.

This album, or, more accurately, the sometimes surprisingly exalted public reaction to this album, was, of course, what got me interested in Carly Rae Jepsen in the first place. Where ʽCall Me Maybeʼ had conquered the world in a blitzkrieg, but rather quickly fell off the radar once the initial orgasmic reaction had subsided, Emotion endured a stranger fate. Commercially, it was far less successful than Kiss — the public did not exactly hold its breath for a follow-up, and even in her native Canada, chart data for the LP and the accompanying singles were far more modest. But the critical response, on the other hand, was far more generous — and the album seems to have had a certain appeal for the indie community as well, which almost ended up welcoming Carly into their midst with open arms and comparisons to all sorts of twee pop idols. So what the hell happened here? An Awakening?..

First, let us see what exactly remained the same. In fact, come to think of it, most things have remained the same, and primarily this concerns the main subjects and moods of the record: Jep­sen is still functioning in precisely the same exhilarated, vapor-headed teen-crush mode as she did before, despite hitting 30 in 2015 (no doubt about it, eternal childhood is a wonderful thing, but I do shudder a little bit trying to imagine CRJ belting out ʽCall Me Maybeʼ thirty years from now on her Farewell Cougar Tour). But that was never a big problem on its own, as long as the songs delivered the feel of a real personality behind them — the problem was the coating, and that prob­lem, unfortunately, remains unresolved: Jepsen's production standards remain generally unaltered, relying on unadventurous electronic rhythms and drum programming.

This time around, however, there is a more distinct nostalgic twist to these arrangements, with most of the melodies influenced even more directly by Eighties synth-pop than the ones on Kiss. At its best, the record hobbles somewhere in between early Depeche Mode and classic ABC, with a decent mix of guitars, keyboards, and synthesized percussion; also, there is more stylistic variety, making it much less of a headache than the relentless jackhammer dance pummeling of Kiss. At the same time, there is visibly more care taken about the vocal melodies — harmonies and hooks run galore, and they all serve the record's chief purpose, which is to show you, the jaded cynical listener, all the innocent beauty and adrenaline-soaked excitement of a modern day Juliet over a modern day Romeo. What, you don't believe in Romeos and Juliets these days? Shame on you! Unlike yourself, Carly Rae Jepsen studies her Shakespeare diligently.

Seriously, I totally concur that Emotion is a huge step forward for Miss Canada, even if that by no means makes it a modern day pop masterpiece. The biggest obstacle is that the lady remains a one-trick pony if there ever was one, as is easily ascertained by the album's only attempt at a slow, sensual love ballad — ʽAll Thatʼ sounds exactly like fifty million hookless, plastic adult con­temporary ballads written in the Eighties and long since relegated to the compost heap. She might have done a little bit of something with that tune, were she Whitney Houston, but she is just a 15-year old insecure girl trapped in the body of a 30-year old woman, and the whole thing is a dis­aster that actually makes me wish she'd never grow up — she has about as much understanding of «slow and soulful» as your average AC/DC vocalist.

Fortunately, the bulk of the album follows the formula of ʽI Really Like Youʼ: upbeat, bouncy, and gambling it all away on vivacious, exhilarated vocal hooks. The song itself clearly aimed at repeating the formula of ʽCall Me Maybeʼ, but the chorus probably failed to appeal to a core audience of 12-year old braindeads — it's as bubblegum as they come, but a little more anthemic and a little less flat-out in-yer-face; also, a bit more grammatical, a tad more sensual, and with a nicer, better defined melodic line in the chorus, considering that the "really really really" bit ma­na­ges not to be so utterly annoying in terms of modulation. If you can forget the thoroughly ludi­crous video with Tom Hanks lip-syncing to Carly's vocal part (nobody needs to see it, but every­body needs to see this insightful Bart Baker parody which logically explains everything that needs to be explained), it's, like, almost a good song!

And yes, there is actually some material here that's even better — provided you can get it out of its context, which, for me, is very painful to do — but ʽRun Away With Meʼ, even despite the awful synth tones, has wonderful harmonies ("run away with me! run away with me!" is deli­vered in an unbeatable excited tone that really touches base with reality); ʽYour Typeʼ has a few delicious ABBA-esque lines ("I'm not the type of girl you call more than a friend", for some rea­son, gets to me and even matches its nervous accompanying synth pulsation); and the best is saved for last — ʽWhen I Needed Youʼ is the most infectious piece on the entire record, due to the clever juxtaposition of falsetto ooh-ooh-ooh's and cheerleaderish hey!'s.

I have no idea, and no desire to find out, who is behind all the vocal creativity on the album (Carly herself or one of the ten billion producers listed in the notes), but I definitely see a time and a context in which these ideas could have been realized in a near-perfect pop record. Unfortu­nately, 2015 and a mainstream marketing strategy are quite far removed from that time and con­text, because outside of the vocal hooks, it's like the only thing they look for in the actual music is «make it loud / make it bubbly / make it danceable» — not really taking home any of those les­sons from either Depeche Mode or ABC that musicianship is not to be neglected. I mean, come on, even if it is synth-pop, what is it about relying exclusively on boring stock phrasing? There's not a single memorable synth riff on the entire album — have these people never listened to, oh, I dunno, ʽMaster And Servantʼ, for instance? Somebody make CRJ listen to ʽMaster And Servantʼ, real quick. If nothing else, she might at least get into BDSM for a change.

All the indie hype over the album may be due to the fact that a combination of twee pop purity, Eighties' synth-pop nostalgia, and a girl-next-door attitude (without any of the Miley / Katy / Taylor glamstravagance) is precisely what the doctor ordered for those 21st century pop lovers who combine refined demands with a subconscious desire for some good old simplicity-stupidity. Well — there you go: Emotion is simple and silly enough without being obnoxiously stupid or suffocatingly cheap (though by my own standards, it is still fairly cheap). I can take it as suffici­ent proof that commercial bubblegum can still be vital and inoffensive in our times, and at least I'll take Emotion over any J-pop or K-pop album any time of day. But if you think I can be char­med by this record into giving it a thumbs up, you got another think coming.

PS. Oh, and don't worry about the deluxe edition — I've listened to these bonus tracks, and they mostly sound like outtakes from The Kiss, very bland and colorless compared to the hooks and harmonies of the main disc. (For that matter, I really hate this practice which is so common now­adays. «Deluxe» treatment should be given to 40th anniversary special editions — let's see if Emotion ever lives up to those regal honors).


  1. Excellent review and the perfect answer to those who think you blindly dismiss modern pop out of hand, even if this didn't get the thumbs up.

    (That should be compost heap, though.)

  2. wait wait, are you telling me post-hipster poptimists can't be trusted?!

  3. This was definitely the most fun I've had with an OK album in a long time.