CARLY RAE JEPSEN: TUG OF WAR (2008)
1) Bucket; 2) Tug Of War; 3) Money And The Ego; 4) Tell Me; 5) Heavy Lifting; 6) Sunshine On My Shoulders; 7) Worldly Matters; 8) Sweet Talker; 9) Hotel Shampoos; 10) Sour Candy.
Okay, one for the kids here. After all, now that we are in 2017 and Carly Rae Jepsen seems to have turned into one of the decade's flashier symbols, for better or for so much worse, it is fully legitimate to come out and ask — what's wrong with a bit of sweet, innocent, starry-eyed pop today? After all, simplistic teen entertainment is only as old as Buddy Holly, the Beatles, and the Beach Boys, and it's also cool to love all sorts of «twee» stuff nowadays, isn't it?..
There were, in fact, plenty of things to like about Carly Rae Jepsen in 2008, once you'd gotten over the fact that she came into the world out of the bowels of Canadian Idol. She was young, she was pretty, she had a nice voice, she knew (barely) how to play guitar, she wrote her own songs, and, perhaps most importantly, she did not try to present herself as the new Queen of Broken Hearts — as the title of the John Denver cover here suggests, she goes for sunshine rather than darkness, which is a good thing, because she looks like a person who prefers to live in the sunshine, and this makes the music more honest.
This is probably where the good things end, because I cannot see Carly Rae Jepsen as a good songwriter. The catchiest song is the opening number, ʽBucketʼ, a bumpy piece of acoustic ska with a good party-time chorus, but even that probably took thirty seconds to «write», apart from finding all the sand-related words. Everything else is totally mediocre folk-pop, livelied up with dance-oriented rhythm section work but never really getting out of the formula that was already well in action on Britney Spears' first album. Producer Ryan Stewart loyally sees to it that nothing and nobody gets in the way of the singer, and the singer gets by more on the strength of the little crispy rasp in her voice — sexy! — than anything else.
With records like these, there is usually no talk of being «impressive» — the choice is between dumb-annoying and tolerable, and, fortunately, Jepsen falls in the latter category. Her lyrics are just one notch above generic teen romance (she is careful enough to put up a few quasi-offensive lines from time to time, like "don't go out with the girls tonight / I will turn to drink / Wondering who you're screwing"), but one notch below the level where this crap becomes overwhelmingly pretentious — and her vocal attitude avoids excessive sex-doll posturing, staying at a comfortable angle where there's a good balance between sex and spirit. In fact, when she proclaims that "I've got to be sure there's more / Than the money and the ego" on one of the tracks, it's an almost believable proclamation, hard as it is to take it from the mouth of a former Idol participant.
Considering how much of a folk-pop / country-pop slant this album has, comparisons with Taylor Swift would be inevitable — Jepsen would undergo the same transformation into an even glitzier electro-pop star even faster than Taylor — and there's really not that much difference, except that Jepsen's material seems a wee bit less calculated. The main problem with all this stuff is that, even with all the starry-eyed innocence, it still sounds as if the album doesn't really want to know if it wants to be a simple collection of dance-pop grooves or if it wants to be a «from-the-heart» type of statement. Jepsen herself has said that she is influenced by Cyndi Lauper and Joni Mitchell — I mean, no shit, girl, but you really have to choose whose side you're on, because you still lack both the eccentricity of the former and the depth and musical talent of the latter. The result is... well, I'd say that the album's «good intentions» are really the only thing that saves it from being a total catastrophe. That and the fact that this is the first and last time you're gonna see and hear C. R. J. as a human being and not a cyborg, prior to, uhm, «assimilation». Also, stealing an album title from Paul McCartney? Not a cool move in my book.