Sunday, October 23, 2022

Review: The Loneliest Time • Carly Rae Jepsen

Canadian singer, songwriter, frequent sword-wielder, and pop music spokeswoman Carly Rae Jepsen’s first three major label records leveraged imagery that indicated they were indebted to love: Kiss, emotion, dedicated. If you didn’t know any better, she was a happily taken woman. Then she delivered a stark antithesis on her newest release, The Loneliest Time. And if you still didn’t know any better, this should be her “quarantine record.” But in a world now saturated with art that explores how we recover from the global despondency of 2020 and 2021, this record tightens the scope of isolationism down to the bedrock of Carly Rae Jepsen’s career: The love – and more often on this record, the strain and growing pains – between two individuals.

The Loneliest Time is the first record to utilize Carly Rae Jepsen as a playful and continually unpredictable artist without compromise. Sure, E•MO•TION spilled out the gauche “Boy Problems” and Dedicated digressed into the ‘50s housewife fever dream “Everything He Needs,” but The Loneliest Time delivers “Beach House,” a campy skit-in-a-song amplifying blundered dates with moochers and potential cannibals, and “Shooting Star,” with its lead vocals trailed throughout by an intergalactic vocal harmony and synth mix. In the space between “Shooting Star” and Tame Impala-adjacent psychedelic disco is “Bad Thing Twice,” another risk worth taking – so much so that she channels the idea again on “Anxious,” a digital-exclusive bonus track, with equally hypnotizing results.

In embracing her own instincts, Jepsen delivers a record that, while quirky and sometimes tilted sideways for the fun of it, proves her artistry well beyond big, bright synthpop with its gear shift jammed in overdrive. “Western Wind,” the record’s Rostam-produced lead single, was the guidepost for expectations: Its open-air landscape restretched Jepsen’s obtainable territory back into the folksy, organic space in which it began before her international resurgence a decade ago. “Joshua Tree” successfully merges the aesthetic direction with a stuttered pop hook, but “Go Find Yourself or Whatever” stands as the most unexpected triumph here: The dusky acoustic track capitalizes on a conversationalist tone and a reinforced underpinning of sitars, mournful harmonies, and wispy synths.

Opening with a sad dance banger like “Surrender My Heart” and quickly following it with the high-octane Captain Cuts cosignature “Talking to Yourself,” The Loneliest Time can sometimes wear a fulfilling masquerade of homeostasis in the Carly Rae Jepsen cinematic universe. Love takes the forefront, and for Jepsen, it holds the power to reframe her life: “I’m living to look at your face. [...] I get all my confidence from you,” she confides on “Sideways.” However, with that much at stake, the record often admits that even hairline fractures can open a fault line – no wonder this is The Loneliest Time. But the good news? By the end, love still wins as a relationship rekindles: “And in the morning, sun hits the water. Is this nirvana?” Jepsen and Rufus Wainwright duet on the album’s title track. She is once again indebted to love.

The Loneliest Time is available now under Interscope Records.

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