Carly Rae Jepsen has made a career out of working hard to outdo her last move. After finding fame on Canadian Idol, she fought to shed the usual talent show stigma. She did that with the huge worldwide success of ‘Call Me Maybe’. The rest of Kiss failed to catch on, and the one-hit-wonder tag was quickly thrown at her. She proved that wrong — although 2015’s Emotion was a modest commercial success, it was critically-acclaimed and stands as one of the decade’s most most-beloved pop records. She continued to ride that success with the Emotion Side-B collection and one last victory lap (the euphoric Emotion outtake, ‘Cut To The Feeling’). Now Jepsen is once again facing expectations. Can she top a perfect record?
Jepsen describes herself as a perfectionist and an obsessive songwriter. Just like for Emotion, she amassed hundreds of songs from sessions with some of the best pop songwriters around (hopefully we’ll be treated to Dedicated B-Side at some point). Surprisingly Dedicated doesn’t sound laboured over and feels like a natural and understated evolution. It doesn’t have as many of the massive pop rushes of Emotion, but there is just as much to offer on this exquisitely-produced and inviting record.
Jepsen and her team seem to know her chance of having a huge hit is slim — if ‘Run Away With Me’, ‘Boy Problems’ and ‘Cut To The Feeling’ failed to deliver, nothing will. This gave Jepsen more freedom to play around with Dedicated’s pre-release singles. ‘Now That I Found You’ (complete with its adorable cat-themed video) is the closest in spirit to the bigger pop moments on Emotion, with its catchy synthetic bass-line and fluorescent chorus.
‘Julien’ glides and pops with the sharp guitars, soft synths and the infectious skip of percussion in the chorus. ‘No Drug Like You’ calls on some of the same 80s pop influences of Emotion, especially when the punchy throb of the bass appears in the simple, summer-y chorus. The recent single ‘Too Much’ seems slight at first, but soon takes hold thanks to her breathy delivery and direct declarations — “I’m not afraid to know my heart’s desire”. Jepsen has always sung about relationships, and describes herself as a hopeful romantic fascinated by the subject of love. Dedicated has her reflecting on her love-life, pitching heartbreak and the thrill of a new love next to each other (she’s been through both since Emotion).
‘Happy Not Knowing’ finds Jepsen in familiar territory, with a heavy debt to sleek 80s pop music and her starry-eyed lyrics on love — “if there’s something between us baby I have no time for it, I’m happy not knowing”. ‘The Sound’ is a streamlined pieced of futuristic pop that is elevated by the elegant piano, airy R&B flourishes and earworm chorus. The touches of R&B sprinkled throughout make this her most sensual release. The gorgeous slinky groove of ‘Automatically In Love’ is a natural continuation of Emotion’s ‘All That’ with the Jam & Lewis inspired beat. On the final track, ‘Real Love’, Jepsen is at her most open and vulnerable — “I’m not even scared about it, all I want is real real love, but I don’t know a thing about it, all I want is real real love”. It’s a song that sums up her brilliance: Her voice flutters around the swelling melody, from the mellow opening to the elated chorus, where the title becomes a rallying cry for dreamers and lovers everywhere.
Some songs dip from the same pool as her previous work, but Jepsen offers up new musical twists as well. That’s demonstrated on the excellent swirling new-wave guitars and robotic vocals on ‘Want You In My Room’. She’s coyly flirted with sexual attraction before, but she’s more direct here as she sings, “I wanna do bad things to you, slide into my window”. The ska influence (especially No Doubt) on ‘I’ll Be Your Girl’ is a delightful addition to her palate as she sings about a darker tale of jealousy — “I’m the voyeur searching through my laptop.” ‘Everything He Needs’ is Dedicated’s biggest risk, with zaps of synths, strutting rhythm and a quirky, pitch-shifting chorus based on a Harry Nilsson song from the Popeye soundtrack. It really shouldn’t work as beautifully as it does, but it’s impossible to resist the song’s giddy bounce.
The perfection of Emotion put Jepsen on a pedestal and it’s a bold move to follow it up with something so low-key and breezy. Robyn had that same pressure and handled things similarly last year. Dedicated isn’t a grand statement; it’s a well rounded record that finds Jepsen sounding confident and relaxed. The whole thing glistens thanks to an endless run of warm, shimmering melodies and rich production details. Dedicated is another masterful record and her fans are likely to live up to the album’s title.