Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Review - Carly Rae Jepsen's "Emotion"

A review of Emotion after the jump:

Carly Rae Jepsen's previous album, 2012's mostly winning Kiss, painted a very specific musical portrait. A shiny package of glittery hooks and synth-heavy production, it was a great, bright, near-masterpiece of a pop album. Like a lot of folks, I only discovered it recently, my previous experience with Jepsen being limited to her inescapable megahit "Call Me Maybe." What I discovered, of course, is that Kiss is: A) Really, really good, so long as you skip the two tracks that feature vocal turns from people who aren't Jepsen. B) Basically one long "Call Me Maybe" in terms of its overall vibe, though it actually contains several songs that are even better. The album floats along on a chorus of giddy romance and "I, I, I wanna go wherever you ares," and even the songs devoted to heartbreak ("Hurt So Good") or potential infidelity ("This Kiss") tend to be caught up in the general buoyancy of it all. It's a record designed for when you wake up in the morning, open your blinds, and get ready to seize the day.

What's that? Seizing the day with a giant smile on your face isn't something that really appeals to you? Well, no worries: Ms. Jepsen has you covered with Emotion. It's not a radical shift in her sound, necessarily; this is still pop music that's overloaded with blissful hooks, with the main difference in that department being that she and her large team of collaborators have done an even better job crafting the ones on this album. But if Kiss screamed daytime, Emotion practically cries out to be played in the evening, from the very first moment when "Run Away With Me" asserts its presence with a swirling, smoky saxophone solo and lyrics that tell the story of two people escaping via the glow of streetlights "while everyone's sleeping." It's clear from the outset too that the bass side of the production equation is going to be far more noticeable this time around; obviously it was there on Kiss as well, but it was often overpowered (not in a bad way) by the synths and Jepsen's sugary vocals. Here it's an essential component of the nighttime atmosphere the song is sketching.

Jepsen's vision of night here is hardly an oppressive or bleak one. In addition to "Run Away With Me's" pounding rhythm section, her vocal line on "Making the Most of the Night" surges forward with similar momentum above another starlit instrumental backdrop, and once again uses imagery of vehicles to convey a sense of possibility. "I know you've had a rough time / But here I come to hijack you," she sings on the song's gleaming chorus, ushering a close friend or lover towards something new as she speeds down roads and ignores traffic signals seemingly without consequence. "Let's Get Lost", meanwhile, is not explicitly set during at night, but after those two earlier tracks it's hard to envision it taking place at any other time, what with yet another seductive car-set chorus: "Baby, let's go get lost / I like that you're drivin' slow / Keepin' my fingers crossed / That maybe you'll take the long way home."

The sly sexuality of lyrics such as these is a marked difference from Kiss as well, which on the whole presented a fairly chaste vision of romance. It opened, after all, by sampling Sam Cooke's "Cupid", a fitting choice for a record primarily concerned with matters of the heart. On Emotion, though, Jepsen are company have built songs with a more down-to-earth and overtly physical sensuality, be it singing about "warm blood, underneath my skin" or—on one of several terrific bonus tracks—throwing in a gloriously cheesy and unsubtle line like "I didn't just come here to dance, if you know what I mean / Do you know what I mean?" (We know what she means.) "I Really Like You's" bubbly chorus of infatuation might recall "Call Me Maybe", but look at the verses and you'll see a somewhat less Disneyfied vision of the same theme, both in terms of the words and the way Jepsen's voice flirtatiously glides over the ends of certain phrases. "It's way too soon, I know this isn't love," she sings, clearly not intending to deny herself some fun while waiting around for Cupid.

That's a wise decision, because (in the grand tradition of pop music) Cupid often doesn't appear anywhere in sight here. The rapturous slow jam "All That" is probably the best thing Jepsen has ever recorded, a sort of cross between pop ballad and devastating torch song that she sings with vulnerable passion. "Your Type", meanwhile, offers a more exuberant take along similar lines; it's a lament of unrequited love that doubles as a cool kiss-off towards the guy in question, asserting Jepsen's refusal to be accepted for anything other than who she is. (Meaning: someone who writes incredibly awesome pop choruses.) She saves the most triumphant variation on this theme for last, though, looking both backwards and forwards as she explores the end of a relationship on superb album closer "When I Needed You."

It's no doubt possible (just look at the average comments section on any music website covering it) to resist the delights of Emotion, but I honestly struggle to understand why anyone would want to. This is just a blissful, varied listen, much more so than most recent pop music made both within and outside the mainstream. Even the one slight oddity here, "LA Hallucinations", works in spite of itself, with its array of well placed hooks overshadowing the fact that its lyrical content (including lines calling out "Buzzfeed buzzards and TMZ crows") doesn't really make a lick of sense in the context of the album. Just listen to that great high-pitched laugh Jepsen does after the first verse. It's as if she realizes the track is a bit of a curveball for listeners, but also doesn't care, because she knows it's a great freaking song anyway.

That moment is also one of about 100 different production touches that help make the record even better than the sum of its songwriting. You can find them everywhere. That one unexpected "gimmie love" that shows up during the first repeat of "Gimmie Love's" chorus. The brief vocal overlap between verse and pre-chorus on "Making the Most of the Night" as the song picks up even greater steam. The snippets of a phone call that open "Boy Problems." Name any song, and there's something there that makes it special. It's a stunning record, and while it's not quite the best of 2015, I've probably already listened to it more times than any other 2015 release outside of Sleater-Kinney's No Cities to Love. (Speaking of which, when are we getting an S-K cover of "Run Away With Me" or "Warm Blood"? Please and thank you.) That alone speaks volumes. You don't have to put a great deal of effort into appreciating this music if you don't want to, but the fact that it rewards those repeated, closer listens is a big part of what makes it one of the best pop albums of the last half-decade.

Well, that and the hooks. Because did I mention this thing has hooks galore? 

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