Review Summary: back on my beatDedicated
has a lot to live up to. After expanding the pop songwriting formula she had already perfected in "Call Me Maybe" into her first consistently successful album (a move that surprised the entire internet for reasons that I will never truly understand) she was crowned the queen of pop. This allowed her to gain the respect of new cross-genre fans, including many on this site - as frustrating as it can be to hear metalheads claiming that Emotion
was bubblegum pop but good, her newfound critical popularity was admittedly very well-deserved. It was a masterwork in buoyant heartbreak. Carly, like most popstars worth their salt, wrote hundreds of songs for that album, selecting only the best for the final presentation, a process she repeated this time around as well. Whatever you have to say about either project, it's hard to argue that there's clearly a very, very high standard of quality demanded from everything. It's easy to argue about which b-sides and bonus tracks should have been singles, but on their own, each song is practically airtight. Pop's simplicity allows for fans to more easily understand exactly what they love and hate - we know why a corny hook can ruin a perfect verse, or why a well-timed bridge can make a good song great. Jepsen understands this, and obviously works hard to ensure that those frustrating bits don't exist, and, more than that, she makes music that's full of those magic moments. Listen to the lead-in to the final chorus of "Julien" - elevating that synth chord raises the listener as well. "Happy Not Knowing" has three separate grooves riding in the hook, enough to keep people hearing something they haven't noticed in a while every time. "Everything He Needs" uses bright chipmunk vocals as auditory spice more tastefully than all of the Chainsmokers-lite style that popularized it as an entrée. The more I listen to Dedicated
, the more honest the title feels.
Besides the fans, this is dedicated to another era. This feels like Heaven and Las Vegas
, Songs From The Big Chair
, Make It Big
and Tango In The Night
met up and cut out all the filler. It's the sound of a better world where disco settled into a natural backburner role instead of flaring up and exploding. Her past work was fantastic but always very of-the-moment, and for the first time she's released something with a unique signature, taking elements from the past and creating her own late-80s compound. A new pile of producers and songwriters (including Noonie Bao, MNDR and Koz) help accomplish the vision Jepsen oversees, ensuring that everything's authentic at minimum and regularly fun. But thick bass rumbles and vocoder back-up vocalists don't hide the biggest thing she's lost - her desperation. Emotion
, despite a relatively unoriginal palate, was the sound of Jepsen putting in everything she had to be recognized for her talents. Longing bled through every track, a deep desire to connect allowed her to voice millions' passions. On Dedicated
, the fiery highs and lows of unrequited love are replaced by the everyday wins and woes of unsatisfied life. That doesn't mean that it's not relatable or important. Part of maturation is mellowing out, and refusing to represent growth in your music is a recipe for disaster. As genuine as her relaxation is, I'd love to hear more frustration or glee. Ecstasy and misery tend to sound more significant than dissatisfaction and success.
Regardless of what I want to hear, she's still fulfilling her intent, and that always feels better than failure. This is a cohesive journey of feelings, even if the hills are a little less steep this time. The opening trio of singles are bright and upbeat, simple joy encapsulated, after which the tracklist continually dims while still maintaining a bounce. It reaches its lowest emotional point in the regretful duo of "Too Much" and "The Sound," understated pieces that will probably end up being fan favorites in the long term. Brightening back up, "Automatically In Love" is a sunny tale of easy romance, and "Feels Right" is an extremely cheesy exploration of how sometimes it's best to just stop thinking about it. Rounding off the album are the admittedly unremarkable "Right Words Wrong Time" (its only saving grace is an interesting production blend of snapping, twinkling keys, and dubstep-style growls) and the clear highlight "Real Love." Any complaints are hard to remember while listening to this jaw-dropping finale. It cranks up the yearning most of Dedicated
forgets, blending it with the gorgeous cloudiness of the midsection and the infinitely memorable horns of "Run Away With Me." Even if you're disappointed by the direction this album takes, it's still worth listening through all the way. And there will be people who are disappointed by this - while there's nothing here that's truly gone from her past, it's not as severe, and that will lose her fans. But that was basically guaranteed when the shadow of Emotion
reckoned over her, the consequences of millions discovering poptimism and choosing her as their queen/victim. What matters is this - in a career full of wins, Jepsen's still on her streak. She's not pop's underdog anymore, and she never deserved to be, because, as Dedicated
proves for a fourth time, she's always belonged at the top.