In 2015, E•MO•TION marked a big change in Carly Rae Jepsen’s musical career. The girl whose “Call Me Maybe” dominated radio in 2012, whose Kiss had the sugary sweet camp of a generic pop artist and made her a musical heel to leagues of strung out QotSA listeners has made converts of her naysayers, and many of them now evangelize on her behalf. I know because I am one of those, though hopefully with the critical faculties necessary of a music reviewer.
Out May 17 via Interscope Records, Dedicated is Carly Rae Jepsen’s answer to her newfound audience of former scorn-seekers, while simultaneously feeling like a natural evolution from E•MO•TION. It takes risks while keeping true to Jepsen’s pop sensibilities, and it matures Jepsen without annihilating the heart of joy and innocence that made Kiss and especially E•MO•TIONso endearing. Dedicated has flaws, but this delicate balance makes it a worthy follow-up to Carly Rae Jepsen’s breakout album.
Starting from the title, Dedicated, all the way down to tracks like “Want You In My Room,” “Everything He Needs,” and even the album art, Jepsen has found a new emotional maturity on this album. She’s even embraced a good touch of sexuality, broaching topics a younger Jepsen would have tactfully avoided.
Songs like “Party For One” and “Want You In My Room” seem explicitly, though not unnaturally, designed to court Jepsen’s new older audience. “Party For One” is a single’s night empowerment anthem, while “Want You In My Room” and its electric “I wanna do bad things to you” exudes sensuality.
This skilled landing from E•MO•TION is Dedicated’s greatest strength. Jepsen goes from a starry-eyed, pining forever-teenager – a dime a dozen in pop – to an artist with strength of character that will appeal to her dedicated following while distinguishing her further.
The album kicks off with “Julien,” which is notable because it sets the tone for the album – crisp disco influenced guitars and instrumentals that lend intoxicatingly to dancing, stellar overall production, and some interesting deviations in musical choices that add a level of depth.
On that, “I’ll Be Your Girl” is far and away the most interesting track on the album, especially in the context of Jepsen’s discography. It begins with a bassline lifted from the memories of moody mid 2000s indie rock and has Jepsen glide across grisley lyrics, “I ain’t in love/I can see you sold out/Where was I/Won’tcha cut my eyes out?” The tune then jumps to a soaring bridge before almost cutting itself off to dip into its driving bass verse again.
“I’ll Be Your Girl” is a fantastic example of what Dedicated does right. It commits to something wildly unexpected while still maintaining Jepsen’s heart, and in this case she pulls it off expertly. “Everything He Needs” is a milder example, mostly broaching new sounds for Jepsen in its production and the extremely high, pitch shifted lyrics in the background that resemble a sound I’ve come to associate exclusively with Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead.”
There are however places where Jepsen should have dedicated herself to a change more resolutely. “Feels Right,” for example, begins with a soulful piano chord and accompanying claps – a beautiful soulful intro that could have been attached to a less produced, more organic track with playful exchanges between Jepsen and Lemar. Unfortunately, after the first bar or so, the song kicks back into 2019 pop mode, leaving the listener with sonic whiplash and a touch of disappointment.
This review cannot end without mentioning “Real Love” though. “I’ll Be Your Girl” may be the most interesting song on the album, but “Real Love” is the best. The song brings together all the best parts of Dedicated. Its tender verse gives way to the ecstatic, marching band-doused-in-electronica fanfare of a dance floor chorus, reminiscent of “Run Away with Me” but with four years of evolution behind it. This is a song to close the set to, 2:00 AM and leaving the audience resonant.
Also, it’s worth noting that the length of the album will sate Jepsen’s fans for some time. She’s well known for her prolificacy – an Instagram caption once implied if her manager would let her, she’d vanish and come back with an album of 200 songs, and E•MO•TION itself came with a full album’s worth of B-sides. Dedicated contains a solid 15 tracks and clocks in at well over 45 minutes.
Dedicated sees Jepsen sticking the landing from gathering a new, older and more alternative audience with 2015’s E•MO•TION. While it’s far from perfect, this is a meaty album that explores new directions for Carly Rae Jepsen and succeeds on multiple levels aside from just providing CRJ listeners with an album of 15 dancefloor bangers – which it also does.
Photos © 2019