Review Summary: Teen pop is as teen pop does.
I’m sorely tempted to begin this review with an “Ah, Carly Rae Jepsen.” Although I know that’s not good writing and will most certainly cause many intending to read this to skip directly to the comment section to complain about said beginning, Jepsen is one of those artists who almost warrants such a start. After all, she resides in such infamy as one of those incredibly controversial artists in both casual listening and reviewing circles that one would almost expect someone to begin a review like so, much like somebody reviewing a Linkin Park or Green Day album. The Canadian Idol finalist made huge waves when her singles “Call Me Maybe” and “Good Time” spread like the common cold over radio stations worldwide, but of course anyone reading this probably already knows this, thus basically obviating an intro paragraph and leaving me to awkwardly try and fill up space for the next few lines. What most people overlook, though, is that before “Call Me Maybe” was bludgeoned to death with a crowbar, it was one of the most solid bubblegum pop songs in recent memory. Of course, it’s simple and safe, but isn’t all teen pop? And for however simple and safe it was, it was ridiculously catchy and infectious - and it actually took a few listens to get annoying, which in other words means it succeeded where almost no radio-pop ever does anymore.
really is, then, is a logical extension of “Call Me Maybe.” A rating of three is the rating which fits this album best simply by virtue of how damn middle-of-the-road it is. Correspondingly, one of the most frustrating things about the album is that it takes no risks whatsoever. When the most ambitious part of an release is titling a song “Guitar String / Wedding Ring,” it’s clear the artist and her marketing team are playing things incredibly safe to ensure maximal success. The lack of risk-taking isn’t a novel idea, either - many radio-pop albums do exactly the same thing. You can argue Teenage Dream
did the same thing, you can argue My World 2.0
and to a certain extent Believe
were extremely safe, you can argue all of Owl City’s latest releases “played it safe” to an unhealthy extent. While these name-drops almost universally elicit groans and moans among anybody over the age of 20 (and anybody with a Y chromosome under that age), Kiss
is surprisingly far better than those artists mentioned above. Sure, the songs are all simple and safe, “Call Me Maybe” times 12 - poppy, bubblegummy synths abound, as do “whoa-oh” and “ooh-ooh” sections, and every song save for two has a simple four-on-the-floor pop house beat. It’s almost expected that the album as a whole would be dreary, factory-made, and boring.
And yet, just like “Call Me Maybe,” the rest of the album succeeds by being catchy, fun, and upbeat. The first four tracks here are some of the strongest on any teen-pop offering since Maybe I’m Dreaming
, and they help the album as a whole quite a bit. “This Kiss” and “Curiosity” are exactly like one might expect them to be, but they actually succeed given a reasonable set of expectations. They’re both so damn happy and hopeful that it’s nigh-impossible to not give in to the urge to tap your foot along with them, and they’re both basically as close to teen-pop nirvana as anyone will feasibly get given today’s low standards. Though the two collaborations are (unsurprisingly) the two worst tracks, they’re fortunately separated by more expectedly poppy but unexpectedly solid songs. “Hurt So Good,” one such tune, succeeds where the first four tracks far exceeded expectations, since it’s basically a retooling of the same ideas that worked earlier (as if we expected anything different). On “Your Heart Is A Muscle,” the obligatory ballad closing out the album, Jepsen shows off her voice, and it’s nice to see that in a pop world full of autotuning, she has a shockingly versatile voice. The strength of that voice is one of the things that carries the release, and the teen pop succeeds in part thanks to the fact that the vocals aren’t Katy Perry’s autotuned warbling or Adam Young’s obnoxious whining.
In the end, Kiss
is exactly what we expected it to be - yet it’s also just that much more. Of course, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that it was factory-manufactured specifically for exactly what makes it so attractive (a feeling that does have some logical grounding), but it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that this is one of the most solid teen pop and radio pop releases we’ve seen in the past few years, and it’s unfortunate that the heavy overplaying of “Call Me Maybe” has tainted that achievement. It’s not revolutionary, no, but it’s not supposed to be. What it’s supposed to be is a fun, catchy, upbeat, and infectious teen pop album - and in that respect it’s exactly what we wanted.