Friday, May 22, 2020

Review: Dedicated: Side B • Carly Rae Jepsen

As a record grows close to the heart, there’s often a drive to expand on its legacy – to explore the imperfections and humanity behind the music that defined our own lives. Fans obsess over its genesis and hidden recording process, begging for access to every breath, wrong note, and rough vocal not captured on the album’s standard tracks. The master streaming releases of Fleetwood Mac’s five mainstay records are encompassing deluxe packages, with dozens of demos and live recordings dwarfing their original track listings. When ideas for Beatles reissues and compilations finally run dry a few decades from now, rare recordings of Paul McCartney coughing between vocal takes during Abbey Road sessions will be pressed to limited edition wax for Record Store Day. 

A conversation on musical giants like Fleetwood Mac and The Beatles wouldn’t be complete without their cohort’s next obvious member: Carly Rae Jepsen. When her 2015 record E•MO•TION redefined pop music’s reputation and became an overnight cult classic, she slipped into an interview that 200 songs had been written in the record’s sessions. The 180 songs not actualized as part of the album’s original campaign would hold the key to an ultimate curiosity at the time: Was E•MO•TION a false positive crafted with the very best of the crop, or can Jepsen consistently deliver masterclass songs that honor and elevate pop music? A surprise release of outtakes, all of which could have been worthy to grace the original track list, and a proper follow-up record, 2019’s Dedicated, prove one thing to be true: Jepsen is an artist worth the obsession.

While E•MO•TION was tailored to a tight, singular vision, Dedicated allowed Jepsen to loosen her grip. Just minutes shy of its predecessor’s run time, Dedicated: Side B is a full victory lap in indulgences. Spare "Let's Sort The Whole Thing Out," which at best may soundtrack a teen summer flick one day, she largely sticks the landing once again as she captures whims and formulates full-bodied pop songs with subtle bends. "Summer Love" all but confirms that Jepsen heard that fantastic mash-up of Tame Impala and "I Really Like You." The sizzle of Jepsen’s actual psychedelic track is just as fulfilling as her voice meets tinny keys and a sick bass riff. And in a more characteristic fashion, she managed to sublimate a chintzy beach-side beat pattern and ukulele riffs on a weightless closer, "Now I Don’t Hate California After All."

While a Carly Rae Jepsen record wouldn't feel complete without punchy bangers like "Stay Away" and the sorely abridged "Fake Mona Lisa," Dedicated: Side B houses a fair number of surprisingly necessary mid-tempo tracks and ballads that the original album lacked. All built with vintage pop ballad reference sheets, "Felt This Way," "Heartbeat," and Bleachers collaboration "Comeback" all tower over the stock-built "This Love Isn't Crazy" and "This is What They Say." While the latter cuts are fine enough, Jepsen can both stretch herself well beyond their templates and exercise a great deal of restraint when appropriate. And thanks to her increased willingness to do so, this record feels more essential to her discography more often than a typical B-sides collection would.

Dedicated: Side B is available now under Interscope Records and Schoolboy Records.

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