I must admit that I've had a hard time articulating my thoughts on E-MO-TION
and been struggling to write a review on it for weeks. On one hand, it's an incredible experience of dance-pop and synthpop bliss with strong vocals and catchy songwriting. On the other hand... well, how the hell did we get here in the first place? If you told me back in 2008 that the unassuming diva who placed 3rd on Canadian Idol would eventually tear up the charts and then proceed to make one of the best pop albums in modern memory, I probably would have laughed. But here we are, left with a record that quite simply blows about 95% of its competition out of the water and established Jepsen as a critical darling.
Of course, I still need to address the eternal elephant in the room: "Call Me Maybe."
It's a shame that Carly Rae Jepsen might never escape being dubbed the "Call Me Maybe Girl," but the simple fact is that it became a true cultural touchstone of its time. Suddenly, the meteoric rise of this formerly indie-rooted artist took the entire world by storm and brought us ridiculous meme after ridiculous meme. But if Jepsen's reaction to the whole fiasco is any indication, "Call Me Maybe" was an opportunity for reflection rather than an excuse to get caught up in newfound fame and fortune. In her own words, the song became a "huge, ginormous thing that really overshadowed the rest of our project." It seems like she genuinely wanted the rest of its parent album Kiss
to be more appreciated alongside the hit single; it's a shame too, because the album is pretty damn good. It's a cheesy dance-pop record, sure, but it's at least honest and up-front with its superficiality... and it's just catchy as hell. In any case, Jepsen pretty much did the best thing she could in her situation: saying "fuck you" to the deadline of E-MO-TION
and telling the producers that it'll be ready when she says it's ready. Knowing the final product as we hear it today, that decision paid off immensely.
I see E-MO-TION
as a fully evolved incarnation of its predecessor; if Kiss
was an album that talked about crushes and pussyfooting around various love interests, this record takes us into the depths and even aftermaths of those scenarios. The songwriting here is fantastic, but it's heightened even more by the fact that Jepsen just sells
it in every song she sings. She truly sounds like somebody who's ecstatic at sharing her voice and her craft with the listener, particularly in the cathartic nature of the choruses. Granted, this is all framed by much of the same dance-pop layout that defined Kiss
, but it's a sound that Jepsen has nurtured and matured considerably. Just listen to that wonderful Springsteen-esque saxophone synth motif that starts opener "Run Away from Me;" it sets the tone for the entire tune perfectly with something both reflective and energetic, as a strong pulsating synthpop beat eventually enters to anchor the melody during the surging chorus. It all becomes a merging of emotion and focus, something the record itself has a strong habit of generating. The lyrics are admittedly simplistic from time to time, but as I stated before, it's all about the way Jepsen delivers these words. The buildup of the title track in particular is extraordinary; we start out with quiet, breathy vocals that gradually build in power as the playful and peppy beat is molded into something more dynamic over time. It's truly exciting to listen to, and I should mention that there's some stylistic experimentation from time to time to go alongside these moments as well. Hell, "Boy Problems" garnered comparisons to Daft Punk! And it certainly shows, as it has a certain Random Access Memories
-era aesthetic with the funk bass and "nu-disco" motifs.
Disco isn't the only thing E-MO-TION
draws from, however, as there's also a huge looming 80s influence all over this thing. In fact, that's easily the most obvious vibe to pinpoint from the very beginning of the experience. "All That" is a slow, sprawling ballad with glittery keyboards coating the piece in layers of cheese, while the aforementioned saxophone motif of "Run Away with Me" immediately generates a wave of nostalgia that's both heartwarming and incredibly fun to hear. Then there's that repetitive synthesizer-fueled beat at the undertow of the instrumentation in "Your Type," recalling a lot of early electronica and new wave. But it's all driven by a more modern vibe, and it almost never sounds like self-parody or overt homage. Carly Rae Jepsen never gives off the impression that she just wants to ape 80s music, but rather craft a passionate love letter to the era. Plus, songs like the energetic pop anthem "I Really Like You" (which, admittedly, includes a slightly annoying and repetitive chorus) and the midtempo banger "L.A. Hallucinations" are a lot more reminiscent of modern pop music than they are of more nostalgic forms of the genre. Finally, there's also the explosive dance-pop highlight "Making the Most of the Night," which seems to demonstrate more modern production values and even has global superstar Sia's fingerprints on it. There's a fresh mix of old and new here, basically, and it's a strong balance.
Carly Rae Jepsen's career has been a truly fascinating one so far, but I'm not sure if she'll ever top E-MO-TION
. It's one of those rare pop albums that does nearly everything right, and for such a perfect storm of emotion, vocal prowess, and songwriting muscle to exist today is so refreshing. It's the kind of record that could make a listener dance to it one minute and then legitimately analyze its themes and musical depth the next, and that's one seriously tough feat to accomplish. Believe me, folks: the hype this album had when it came out was very real. It really is that good, and it really was created by the "Call Me Maybe Girl." Crazy, right?