Review Summary: The growing pains of navigating uncharted waters
The Carly Rae Jepsen narrative
. It’s an intriguing thing to unpack, isn’t it? From placing 3rd on Canadian Idol
, to releasing a folk-pop album that flew under the radar, to smashing sales records with 2012’s “Call Me Maybe”, to becoming a beloved pop icon with 2015’s Emotion
... the story has enough twists and turns to give any bystander whiplash. But the narrative around Jepsen has certainly shifted over time; I may have been a relative newcomer to pop music in 2012, but I remember “Call Me Maybe” having some serious backlash. Was it overplay? Was it the sugary lyrical content? Was it that slick synth line in the chorus? Probably a combination of all three. But here’s what I’m getting at: Jepsen was far from being the celebrated artist she is now, and the clear demarcation line was drawn with Emotion
. It now seems to be conventional wisdom among both critics and the CRJ fanbase that she can simply do no wrong
But how true is that? After all, Dedicated
already revealed some cracks in the Jepsen pop formula. As fun as the record was, I couldn’t shake off the feeling of “been there, done that” when comparing it to its predecessor. It’s almost as if Jepsen knew
she was now pigeonholed into her newfound acclaim by Emotion
, opting to hit many of the same stylistic beats without expanding her sound too much. But it looks like 2022’s The Loneliest Time
is here to change that, if only a touch. While the album is still steeped in those familiar rushes of polished synthpop bliss, it seems there’s been an effort by Jepsen to diversify her sound in the process. First and foremost, the songs – at least in the first half – have a leaner runtime than on previous records, almost giving the impression that you’re getting a little snapshot or mini-vignette with each one. This newfound brevity is a bit of a double-edged sword (we’ll get back to that later), but let’s focus on its benefits first.
I would venture to call The Loneliest Time
the most fragmented album in Jepsen’s discog, but this does lead to some fun experiments here and there. For instance, late-album deep cut “Go Find Yourself or Whatever” sees her making a rare return to her folk-pop roots; mellow acoustic guitar and light synths provide the backdrop for one of Jepsen’s most impassioned performances to date, as she sorrowfully grapples with the prospect of her and her lover drifting apart. In fact, that tinge of melancholy permeates much of The Loneliest Time
, likely driven by the passing of Jepsen’s grandmother during the COVID pandemic. Lead single “Western Wind” is another inspired departure from her normal sound, as its light jangly beat and easygoing vibe perfectly match the song’s talk of breezy California nostalgia. A lot of the record’s greatest successes come in the form of these laid back vibes, but that’s not to say that we don’t get some BANGERS, of course. Opener “Surrender My Heart” is quite the sublime affair, a fun sugar rush of synthpop bliss; even Jepsen’s forlorn lyrics about loss and therapy can’t drag down the song’s energy in the slightest. “So Nice”, meanwhile, is an uplifting piece of funk-pop with some of the best harmonies on the record, in part due to the backing vocals of Nate Cyphert.
But okay, that’s all well and good. Where does that double-edged sword come in? Unfortunately, the shorter runtimes also lead to several songs being underdeveloped or straight-up unfinished. The percussive guitar and vocal harmonies of “Joshua Tree” are quite enjoyable, but the tune really could have used an extra bridge to drive everything home; once the dance beat comes in, you’re already nearly halfway through the song. The problem is even more noticeable on “Sideways”, which sees Jepsen going for a slick sophisti-pop sound akin to Natalie Prass’ most recent album, and you’d wish the vibe could go on for a bit longer… but nope. Just over two minutes. And this also leads to one of the strangest things about The Loneliest Time
: the fact that it’s frontloaded with these small cuts, while the back half has the longer songs. I’m not sure if this was deliberate, but it really hampers the pacing of the record. I tend to gravitate toward the second half, not only because of its adventurousness, but because of its willingness to dwell on those experimental ideas a bit longer. So what we have is a tale of two sides, the structure of which leads to quite the uneven affair.
Still, Jepsen should at least be commended for trying to break out of her usual formula. While she hasn’t had a remotely mediocre album since her breakthrough with Emotion
, I feel as though she’s been in a slight holding pattern since then. The problem here isn’t the diversity of the record, but instead the lack of focus when structuring it. You’ve got short, half-baked pop numbers mingling with bold exploratory cuts, and it all leads to somewhat of a jumble. But damn
if this jumble isn’t great when it’s at its best. Jepsen may have slightly lost her footing here when comparing The Loneliest Time
to the last few albums, but the highlights are still worth the messy, inconsistent journey it takes to get to them.