Review Summary: emotion...
Trying to argue that “Run Away With Me” is a perfect song is like trying to argue an object dropped from ten feet will fall to the ground: the claim is axiomatic, a truth so fundamental to the fabric of the universe that it hardly even bears mentioning. And yet, in the context of Dedicated
, a brief reexamining seems appropriate. I was a college freshman when “Run Away With Me” came out. That year is when the world opens itself to you: you’re newly an adult, away from home and largely unsupervised by the forces that have sheltered you for the first eighteen years of your life. You can transgress far less surreptitiously than you ever would in your hometown; drinking, smoking, and hooking up move from the shadows of quiet basement parties to the limelights of bars and frat houses.
More critically, though, you used to be defined to some degree of rigidity by your family, community, and (necessarily more restrictive) high school; here, you’re free from all of that. As a result, you can be a more unfiltered version of yourself - and when you’re more unfiltered, so are your emotions. You launch into love and heartbreak and angst with a fluidity impossible when those around you have known you for more than six months; you become a more intensely felt version of yourself. “Run Away With Me,” more so than any other Carly Rae Jepsen song, understands how those floodgates open. It is pure joy, pure uplift, and pure power; it feels the terrifying swoop of new love as though nobody, least of all its deliverer, has ever felt like that before. It is in all ways an unparalleled four minutes and eleven seconds, a whirlwind so unspeakably ferocious that when Jepsen recently ranked her own songs, bracket-style, for BuzzFeed in an effort to promote Dedicated
’s latest single “Too Much,” I almost believed she’d nevertheless pick the former over the latter in the bracket’s grand finals.
Then again, I suppose it’s appropriate that Jepsen picked “Too Much” as her favorite song she’s penned. The musician has said across several interviews that album opener “Julien” best encapsulates the spirit of Dedicated
, but of all that album’s fifteen tracks “Too Much” best encapsulates the spirit of Carly Rae. She’s at her best when she’s feeling with reckless abandon; her best work so Platonically idealizes the concept of “Big Mood” (capital-B-capital-M) that the idea of the musician having to workshop names for Dedicated
’s masterpiece predecessor, and therefore the mere possibility that said name could have been proposed to be anything but E•MO•TION
(capital-everything, two full stops before word’s end) is blasphemous. That all-caps is audible in, of course, the unadulterated joy of “Run Away With Me,” especially its sublime bridge (“Over the weekend, we could turn the world to gold”), but also: The laissez-faire of “Boy Problems” that can only go skin-deep before its easily permeable cool unravels; the staked heart of “Turn Me Up,” alchemizing breakup into cataclysm; the disquiet of “Warm Blood,” a purportedly slow burn that feels more like a nuclear reactor roaring at full capacity. Carly Rae’s bracket-winner best represents its progenitor when she sings “When I feel it, then I feel it too much” in its chorus, simultaneously a perfect one-line summary of what makes her essential and yet, in typical Carly Rae fashion, an understatement so grand that all other understatements lose claim to that word.
, at its best, demonstrates Carly Rae at her two-full-stops self. Jepsen swings well past the moon on individual songs, and at its many peaks her work here belongs in the company of her previous perfection. Clear standout “Happy Not Knowing,” an unassailable banger of titanically synthy proportions (and, incidentally, one of maybe two or three songs here that would have fit seamlessly into E•MO•TION
’s collectiion of B-sides), wusses out of romantic potential with a pained, unconvincingly carefree smile so viscerally similarly to far too many of my own lived experiences that I feel obliged to tweet “Carly Rae Jepsen is @ing me again” every time I hear it despite having deactivated my Twitter a year ago. Polar opposite “Now That I Found You” is similarly massive, a spiritual rehash of “Cut To The Feeling” that breathes new dimensions into that song’s breakneck euphoria while maintaining the acrid aftertaste of its paralyzing romantic uncertainty.
The rest, though? It’s, well, pretty fine. Jepsen has discussed that a working pre-release title for Dedicated
was Music to Clean Your House To
, that the original thematic concept threaded through its creation was “chill disco.” In practice, “chill disco” only goes so far in covering the album’s fifteen songs - Jepsen’s blessedly too much of a sucker for ‘80s cheese to fully commit to the coolness of “Julien” and “No Drug Like Me” - but its conceptual presence puts ankle weights on too many songs that should otherwise soar unencumbered. In its wake, a monochromaciticy that’s so rarely appeared in her work before permeates too much of Dedicated
. Too many instrumentals plod, too many lyrical conceits stumble, too many songs blend into the work of other artists. Much of the album’s last third, in particular, feels uninspired. In the album’s promotional run-up, Jepsen’s talked about having written and recorded two hundred songs from which she picked her favorite fifteen, and it’s disappointing to see such a concentrated cluster of duds picked for the final bouquet. “Feels Right” veers perilously close to the sprawling blight of Taylor Swift’s “ME!”, a stab at Spotify-core featuring Spotify-core king Asa Taccone contributing an utterly insubstantial line to its chorus; “Right Words Wrong Time” captures the lethargy of “All That” but misses its quiet desperation; “For Sure” would have slotted nicely into ODESZA’s A Moment Apart
, itself appropriately a major step down from the brilliance of its predecessor In Return
To be clear, even amongst the overabundance of drab, Carly Rae still shines through the cracks. The aforementioned “Feels Right” almost redeems itself with a coyly-delivered “I bet we can make things sliiiiiiide into Monday”; the otherwise Capital-One-TV-spot sonic fingerprint of “I’ll Be Your Girl” swings from anger to anguish to emptiness and back again so neck-snappingly that it nevertheless is redeemed. This is still a Carly Rae Jepsen album, albeit an all-lowercase no-stop “emotion...” that eventually trails away instead of bursting like a firework. It even nails its more serene moods half the time - “Julien,” despite ostensibly inspiring much of the album’s lethargy, punches through via perfect wah-wah accompanying the singer’s too-casually-spun yarn of breakup pain.
And yet, even if Dedicated
resides within the zip code of “emotion,” it nevertheless lives in shabbier digs. When many works of art are met with mild approval, it’s all well and good, but “mild” and “Carly Rae Jepsen” should only appear in the same sentence if the “mild” is wryly understated with the quiet potency she’s all but mastered before this. Dedicated
is a quiet weekend at home too soon after finding lips in the streetlight, a shrug at the end of a relationship where tears might have been years prior, an ethos of “chill disco” from a songwriter who made her mark by forgetting that the first word in that phrase existed for some blessed period of time. “Run Away With Me,” and CRJ’s best material, indiscriminately sweeps everyone and everything in its path into its tornado of forlorn desire. Dedicated
is good, but it doesn’t whirl with the same destructive force; in that sense, it is Carly Rae’s first genuine failure in a decade.