Sunday, May 19, 2019

Review: Dedicated • Carly Rae Jepsen

As a woman whose career hit an astonishing commercial peak in its infancy but obtained a more sustainable sense of meaning in the years following, Carly Rae Jepsen boasts a resume unlike most others that hit the desk. 

Though home-run hit "Call Me Maybe" and a glossy international debut record suggested Jepsen could stake a claim as the last integral addition to the early 2010s generation of commercial pop stars, she never quite meshed with provocative giants like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. What was to come, however, revealed a more compatible place of belonging: E•MO•TION, a sturdy set of polished bangers, positioned her as the pop artist for everyone – for the young, the old, and even the elitists who feel most pop music is below them. Thanks to its profound impact within important niche audiences and its resilience in an era that has shrunken pop's importance in the mainstream, the acclaimed album far overshadowed her Diamond-certified single in some respects – and for that, we all give thanks.

She grabbed the sales numbers on her first try at the worldwide stage and the critical acclaim on her second, so where was a gal like Carly Rae to go now? Her solution, it seems, is quite simple: Rather than split the difference or preoccupy herself with her place in the musical landscape, she allows her newest record, Dedicated, to relax into a carefree evolution. Like all great warriors, she returned from her hiatus wielding... well, not a sword, but a dildo on "Party for One," a sharp, modern-minded track that has since been banished to the deluxe pressing of the record. It’s not a particularly essential addition to Jepsen’s catalog, but it allowed her to make a clean break from her three-year lucid dream set in the mid-1980s – and with a defiant wink, at that.

Like "Party for One," Dedicated is easygoing – sometimes to its own detriment, especially in regard to its pacing – but determined to move forward: On it, Jepsen isn't afraid to exercise her quirks and test pop's limits in subtle ways. While nothing feels the same, nothing feels out of place, either – minus perhaps "Now That I Found You," a class-act Captain Cuts banger that punches right through the rest of the record's cooler palette. She welcomes reggaeton rhythms on "Too Much" and "The Sound," slides into shimmering neo-disco on "Julien," and flaunts a horn hook (once again) on "Real Love." There's also a chintzy sample from the 1980s Popeye musical in "Everything He Needs" and a bit of a rock chick moment with "I'll Be Your Girl," both of which can be chalked up to Carly Rae Jepsen being Carly Rae Jepsen. 

Her experimentation doesn't overextend the integrity of the tracks, most likely thanks to an irresistible pop veneer that coats the entire record. Rather than commit the record to wholesome nostalgia, Jepsen and her group of producers pull samples from multiple time periods, including present trends, to craft the sleek and shiny soundscapes on Dedicated. This, of course, isn't meant to downplay Jepsen's solid songwriting: Her sticky melodies linger long after tracks have ended, and her lyrics still buzz with youthfulness. The incredible vocal work on "Automatically in Love," however, spares the innocence and allows Jepsen to explore her sensual side, which was exercised for the first time over the chilled-out groove of "No Drug Like Me."

In some ways, there seems to be a bit of dichotomy between Carly Rae Jepsen and the concept of dedication. She told interviewers that she wrote over 200 songs during sessions for her last record and nearly another 200 for Dedicated, and the long process of whittling tracks down to an album involves pool parties, voting sessions, and arguments between friends. And after all that fuss, Dedicated itself still isn't quite sold on the idea of commitment, finding itself caught in moments of both doubt ("Too Much," "Happy Not Knowing") and bliss ("No Drug Like Me," "Want You In My Room," "Feels Right"). But if there is one thing to which Carly Rae Jepsen is dedicated, it's her craft. She understands pop music on a deeper level than most – its composition, its irresistible appeal, its versatility, its underestimated complexity, and when it's written with as much care as the cuts on Dedicated, its power.

Dedicated is available now under Interscope Records.

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