With big hooks and breathless romance galore, Carly’s leftovers from last year’s Dedicated show off her range, even when the songs start to lose their spark.
The Hulu television series Normal People, which follows a tenuous love affair between two academically bright but emotionally obtuse students, has everything your sophisticated millennial could want. Based on a Sally Rooney novel of the same name, the sexy Irish drama serves you wispy bangs, small boob representation, and—if you squint!—Marxist undertones. But it also offers a soft and stunning exploration of desire, the kind of intimacy that strips you of pretense, leaving you vulnerable to the world. The show features music of varying resonance: Selena Gomez’s too-precious “Rare” soundtracks a party scene when the doe-eyed ingenue meets a sadist, and Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek”—hallowed season finale material—is sacrilegiously wedged into the second episode. But midway through the series is a perfect alignment of song and scene. The morning after sleeping together, two friends linger in the kitchen. Everything is new, provisional: their conversation is suffused with longing. Wafting in the background is Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Too Much,” about the tingly uncertainty of liking someone: “Is this too, is this too/Is this too much?”
This too much-ness, the spilling over boundaries of acceptable displays of emotion, undergirds much of Carly Rae Jepsen’s breathless music. Her songs brush against a scary reality. You may insist on your independence, your detachment, your self-conscious cool, but one day you will be unraveled by someone: their look, their memory, their touch. In Carly Rae Jepsen’s songs, there is always a “you” pressing against the “I,” a slippery object of yearning that colors its subject. Or as she sings on her last album Dedicated, “I think I’m coming alive with you.”
A year after Dedicated’s release, Jepsen has surprise-dropped a collection of outtakes from the album, just as she did for 2015’s Emotion. Side B arrives at the perfect time. For many, quarantine has stalled romantic intrigue; without someone to pine over, our cramped, dull existence seems even more confining. Whereas Dedicated started out low-key, its counterpart immediately explodes with feeling: ’80s-inspired opening track “This Love Isn’t Crazy” pairs a volcanic chorus with pleading “baby/crazy/save me” rhymes. It’s a little too conventionally CRJ, but it’s still a joyful reprieve, like a fizzy drink after some 9-5 drudgery. As Jepsen tells it, “I wanted to flip the switch and just be like, ‘Welcome to love, everyone! We’re going to have a party! Stop cleaning your house!’”
Side B demonstrates her range, teasing a few different lanes from the original’s “chill disco.” She originally wrote 200-something songs for Dedicated, and had such difficulty whittling it down that she floated the idea of a 50-track deluxe edition. With its tinsel synths and watery marimba, “Now I Don’t Hate California After All” sounds like Christmas on the beach; “Window” is buttery funk-pop that gestures toward her debut, Tug of War. Her lyrics venture away from shy flirtation, hinting at bickering, cruelty, and ambivalence. “I’m at war with myself,” Jepsen admits on the hazy, wistful “Comeback.”
Some songs, meanwhile, are unapologetically hot. The feathery, mid-tempo “Felt This Way” shows Jepsen obsessing over a lover’s touch; “Stay Away” is the same song after a shot of vodka. The double-hitter is a peek into Jepsen’s songwriting process, revealing how the same text can be manipulated in different but equally compelling directions. “Both our hands speak for us and complicate it,” she sings. “How can I stay away?” Equally sexy but weirder is “Fake Mona Lisa,” which recalls the reckless fun of Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night.” For a brief moment, Jepsen’s lover is hypnotized by the lipstick-smudged woman in the DaVinci print, who becomes Jepsen’s sexual competition. Then he comes to his senses, and undresses her.
A few years ago, Carly Rae Jepsen proclaimed to “really really really really really really like you.” She thrived in this gap, between the intensity of the “really really”-s and the hesitation of the “like.” When she tries to bridge the divide on “Let’s Sort the Whole Thing Out,” it’s a little jarring. The song is about feeling insecure in a new relationship, only for your partner to ardently commit to you out of the blue. Its twinkly, vacant Mattel doll sheen makes his chirped “I love you” seem implausible, perfunctory—simultaneously too much and not enough. (It doesn’t help that it sounds like the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend theme song “Meet Rebecca!”) “Let’s Sort The Whole Thing Out” is one of a few deflating moments for an otherwise exhilarating artist; another is “Heartbeat,” a total snooze of a prom song. While Jepsen makes B-sides markedly better than other artists’ A-sides, she can still falter; some points feel like kissing a crush for the first time and missing the spark.
Buy: Rough Trade
(Popitrecords earns a commission from purchases made through affiliate links on our site.)Back to home