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Junk Mail: Carly Rae Jepsen 'EMOTION' Album Review

by Carolyn Menyes   Aug 24, 2015 17:42 PM EDT

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Welcome to Junk Mail, where a few Music Times staffers email back-and-forth about each week's biggest release throughout the work day. This week, Carolyn Menyes, Ryan Middleton and Lindsay Haddox chat about Carly Rae Jepsen's new album, EMOTION.

Carolyn Menyes: How do you follow-up one of the biggest earworm songs of the summer in history? After smashing into the pop landscape in 2012 with "Call Me Maybe," Carly Rae Jepsen sort of struggled to have a major follow-up hit from her debut album Kiss. Now, she's back with her second effort, EMOTION. And while there's nothing as disturbingly infectious as her breakout single, this album is easily one of the glitziest, most polished pop pieces of the last year. This is a girl who knows how to craft a hook, and I'm feeling it. What are your guys' initial thoughts?

Lindsay Haddox: First thought, this is not what I would ideally listen to and I can't say I was too excited to listen. However, after listening all the way through I'm a bit hooked. I was not expecting this from Carly Rae Jepsen, but I really like it. Also, I'm digging the '80s vibe that she has brought back for the entire album. She may not have recreated the next "Call Me Maybe" but she has put together a well polished album and for me that's extremely important, but that's just my opinion.

Ryan Middleton: Ah Carly Rae Jepsen, I still have nightmares / beautiful dreams of hearing "Call Me Maybe" non stop for about 18 months. With such a jam in her pocket, the question is can she pull off a follow-up to one of the biggest hits of this decade (which is only five years young). There has been talk that he trying to sing her age now and grow up a bit, but we wanted to see the finished product. Her introductory single was a bit still tweeny. I mean who else says "I really, really, really, really, really, really like you," but the rest of the album showcases more mature and modern songwriting and production.

CM: I think we definitely need to talk about "I Really Like You." Releasing this track as a lead single was a clear play by her team to try and recapture some of that "Call Me Maybe" magic. You have the tween-leaning lyrics, the repetitive phrasing, a music video with Tom Hanks and even a viral lip sync video starring Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. Unfortunately for Jepsen and her team, "I Really Like You" failed to take off the way her 2012 smash did and I think that's why we just now have the U.S. release of this album now (about six months after the lead single dropped). I think they then didn't really know how to promote EMOTION, because there were song releases every Friday for weeks and like two semi-singles. The promo has been a little messy for an album that deserves much, much better.

There are plenty of single-worthy tracks, but Jepsen has gone with "Run Away With Me." That single retains the youthful energy of "I Really Like You" and even "Call Me Maybe," but it brings with it a sense of texture. That M83 style saxophone opens the single and the album, setting listeners up for a glorious '80s-esque experience with a modern bubblegum pop flair. It's a great kick off to the record, and I hope it gains traction with listeners. It lacks something really irritating and catchy, but it's actually a pretty perfect pure pop song.

LH: I agree; her first single off EMOTION lacks maturity for an artist who is almost 30 years old and it was definitely a play by her team. She hasn't done much on the charts since "Call Me Maybe," so I think the goal was to get her back into the spotlight again. Also it can't hurt to have Justin Bieber be your hype guy and then put Tom Hanks in your video. It is catchy though, which is why I'm guessing is why it's the first single. To be honest though I couldn't handle another "Call Me Maybe" so "I Really Like You" wasn't exactly making me want to listen to her album.

"Run Away With Me" took me a few listens to get into, but I'm not disappointed with her choice. She sets up the '80s sound right from the beginning with this song and keeps true to it the whole album which I dig... a lot. I'm really glad this song lacks something irritating and catchy because it gives her a chance to show that she is so much more than "Call Me Maybe" and the one hit wonder that everyone has labeled her as.

Also I must say that she did a wonderful job with the instrumental on this album, it's something to (that I) appreciate. Not many artist are doing an entire '80s sounding album but she did it and it sounds good. This definitely deserved better promotion, but her following is stronger now so maybe it'll get the attention it deserves down the line.

RM: Yeah it appeared as though "I Really Like You" tried to bridge that middle ground between the teens and the college / post grads she is going for now, but it failed to hit as they wanted to. "Call Me Maybe" was a once in a lifetime type of tune. Trying to hit that again wasn't going work.

The album is quite diverse, so there are a variety of songs that do it for me in different ways. "Run Away With Me" has the best chance to be the best straight ahead pop banger from the album.It hints at an 80s vibe with the rolling synths, but then has a great hook. That funky bass line in "Boy Problems" is pretty irresistible. The lyrics are still pretty tweeny again -- just look at the title "Boy Problems," but the beat is fire and that is half the battle in pop. Then to get me dancing, the Showtek-produced (did not see that one coming at all), "I Didn't Just Come Here To Dance" has some sexy 90's piano house that is both in vogue right now and I am a sucker for.

Do you think she succeeded in telling the story of a more mature romance?

CM: I do think she succeeded in acting and sounding more mature on this record. I think we all agree that "I Really Like You" is a big bait-and-switch, but this record is a great walkthrough of a buzzing new relationship. I'm actually surprised at how consistent and cohesive it can be, because she wrote like 80 new songs for this record and worked with about that many people before narrowing it down to these 15 tracks.

If we're talking about a great blend of mature lyrics and a rushing, glorious, glitzy '80s pop sound, it gets no better than "Making the Most of the Night." I love how urgent this song is, and the passion in her voice when she builds up to the chorus and blasts out with "I know you've had a rough time / But here I come to hijack you, hijack you / I love you / I'm making the most of the night." DAMN. That is pure pop bliss and I don't care what anyone else has to say. It's pretty much a perfectly crafted song. Sure, it's another comfort "I love you when you're broken" song, but it feels so much like that; it's a great translation.

You also have some real sexy songs on here. Of course, there's the Dev Hynes produced "All That," which is super sizzling. I'm also a big endorser of "Warm Blood," which is little more than pure sexuality translated in to music. If we're talking about no longer being that upper-20s girl who somehow sounds like she's 14, Jepsen got that done here.

LH: I think she sounds more mature on this record than the last one, but I don't think she has yet found a way to sound her age. I don't listen to Carly Rae Jepsen and think of a 29-year-old, I think more of an artist in her young 20s. I feel as if in a way she doesn't compare to other artists that are her age lyrically if that makes sense. Like Carolyn said, she wrote about 80 songs for this record so she has the talent I think she is just lost at where to direct her attention to audience wise.

That being said the song that caught my attention the most was "Let's Get Lost." The beginning of it sounded like "Daylight" by Matt and Kim, and that caught my attention. The saxophone in it is crazy good as well. This song is flat out just super catchy and a part of me wants to keep it on repeat. I'm also really hoping it sees some radio play eventually. After I heard this song the album changed for me, this is where her talent really caught me. I don't love the first half of this album, but once I hear "Let's Get Lost" plays I am hooked on the rest of it.

The other big track for me is "LA Hallucinations."  Not only is the beat fun, the lyrics are very straight forward about the fame or in her words the game changing her and others around her. She even calls out buzzfeed and TMZ in the lyrics "Buzzfeed buzzard and TMZ crows / what can I say you doln't already know?" I think this song is pretty interesting and I always enjoy knowing how celebrities feel about being in the spotlight because chances are it's nothing like I expect it to be.

RM: Yeah I don't think she manages to come off as a 29-year-old woman, which in part because her voice is so soft and high pitched, but her content is slowly growing up. Jumping immediately to talking about having a wine night in with her girlfriends or dinner parties would be too abrupt for her still young fan base.

Some of her romance shows some maturity, acknowledging the runaway power of love in the final digital bonus track "Favourite Colour." "This Is getting kind of serious / This is getting kinda out of control," she sings.

"LA Hallucinations" shows a remarkable self-awareness of her own star power calling out tabloids (interesting she went after Buzzfeed and TMZ in the same sentence) and fakeness that exists everywhere in Los Angeles.

There are a wide range of EMOTIONs from heartbreak and lost love in "Your Type" and the savior type of love in "Making The Most Of The Night." It is a more complex and potentially harmful feeling, but not many artists would be willing to tackle that type of love . Most albums just stick to one side of love, but Jepsen goes for it all.

One of the things that makes this album so unique is the variation in production, how do you think she meshed with the different production styles and did they all work?

CM:  Alright, y'all. 29 is not THAT old. I think for a single lady, the subject matter felt pretty appropriate. If you're crushin' on someone or just falling in love, it's easy to feel like a #teen again. I think she actually maneuvers that EMOTION well. Love does crazy things to ya. Katy Perry literally sang about feeling like a teenager on Teenage Dream, which coincidentally turns five years old today. She was 25 or 26 when that record dropped, so, it's not a huge stretch for ol' Carly Rae.

At first listen, I wasn't so sure how cohesive EMOTION was, but the more I listen, I think it runs together well. Though you have more danceable tracks ("I Didn't Just Come Here to Dance"), teen ballads ("Boy Problems") and the heavy sizzlers ("All That"), I think they still blend together nicely.

I will say, even though this album is a great piece of pop, it feels a little top heavy. The last four songs (minus "Warm Blood") on the standard version are a little forgettable. Like, do you have any real opinion on "When I Needed You?" I didn't think so. "LA Hallucinations..." Maybe it's because I'm currently a NYC gal, but that song failed to make me feel anything.

LH: That's true 29 is not that old, maybe it's because we see women in their younger 20's singing about sex more than falling in love. Jepsen does a good way of showcasing love at angles so props to her because she isn't giving into what the industry probably wants. I guess it is the soft spoken and high pitched voice that does make me think of her as younger and like we said earlier the songs she had as singles didn't do her maturity much help. So after really thinking about this all I do see her and her new music as more mature then when she first started the game.

I think that because Jepsen did "Call Me Maybe" and "I Really Like You" my mind going into this was that the album couldn't be much better, but she proved me wrong. I think that the music all came together really well, I feel like each song is meant to go after one another. When listening to "Let's Get Lost" she follows it up with "LA Hallucinations" and they mesh well, as does the rest of the album. She's a lucky one and had some killer people come in to help like Sia and Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij and they all did a good job working with her and creating the album she wanted. It's always great to see artists staying true to their vision and I respect that. A lot of people seem to be rooting for her and this record and I believe this record could put her more on the map more than Kiss did.

RM: Alright yes 29 isn't that old, but much, probably too much has been made of her age and the contrast of her topics and sound from that age.

For me if the production on a pop track is the most important part. Other look at hooks and even verses, but when you want to create catchy anthems that get played on the radio, torment bar DJs and be the secret love of moms everywhere, the production has to be at its best. Lyrically it is able to tell a lot of different stories, which is important, though it can be a little disjointed at times, but the production adds a whole other wrinkle to the LP.

There are your straight glitzy modern pop beats, which may do the best on the radio immediately, but the 80s vibe captured by the litany of super producers like Shellback, Ariel Rechtshaid, Greg Kurstin and Devonte Hynes adds a nice throwback element and even a little funk to make this album a little different from other pop full-lengths. "I Didn't Just Come Here To Dance" is a straight up dance track and getting one of the Showtek brothers on it was coup.

Anything that felt lacking?

CM: Honestly, I think this record is one of the best pure pop LPs I've heard in a long time, and while songs like "Run Away With Me" and "Making the Most of the Night" are flawless, the album is not without a few bumps.

Like I mentioned, I thought that the end of the standard edition was a little bland. I could dump "Let's Get Lost," "LA Hallucinations" and "When I Needed You." I'd bump up the three bonus tracks ("Black Heart," "I Didn't Just Come Here to Dance" and "Favourite Colour"). First off, the u's remind us Jepsen is Canadian. Secondly, these songs are all just carefree pop fun, but they're memorable! I'm taking "I Didn't Just Come Here to Dance" with me to the next party I attend and Imma dance like it's 1995!

Any misfires for you, Lindsay?

LH: Agreed you can definitely hear the time it took to make this record. When it comes to pop you don't always need a well thought out record because people are just buying single but when a good one comes along you can't not give it the credit it deserves. Being that it's only Jepsen's second record the bumps are expected but that only sets her up to do even better on her next record.

What I will say is that "All That" did not really do it for me. It sounds like something that is played at the end of a school dance. I can get with the old school Cyndi Lauper feel and I appreciate the homage to her if that's what her inspiration was, but I wish the song was replaced with one of the other 70 some songs she recorded. With a chorus that sounds as if it could have some maturity she ends it saying she could be a friend, that just throws me off. We agree she is mature, but the lyrics in the song could have been better. No one is perfect though, right?

However, the rest of the record has really grown on me and I have a new appreciation for Jepsen as an artist this day in age. I can definitely say I'll be playing some of her songs at parties and expect them to sooner than later hit the clubs for everyone to enjoy.

RM: I am not as high on this record as you Carolyn, but I do love it for its diversity and her risk taking to address love in broad strokes with varied production.

The album is a rarity in the pop space that it doesn't have many clear destined for radio hits, but also doesn't have many songs that bomb as well. It is a quality piece of work from start to finish. I love the beat to "Boy Problems," but the lyrics don't do it for me. I guess I don't get boy problems.

Towards the end, some of the tracks like "Warm Blood" are a little forgettable in the grand scheme of things, but no album is going to be all hits all the time.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

CM: Carly Rae Jepsen really may never have another single as infectious as "Call Me Maybe" under her belt, but this album is far more cohesive than her 2012 record Kiss. With '80s pop gems around every corner, this album may not be a commercial smash, but it's going to get enough critical acclaim to sustain Jepsen for a long, long time. I'm a fan now. And I HATED "Call Me Maybe." 

LH: I didn't hate "Call Me Maybe" but I was sick of Carly Rae Jepsen for a while.  This album has changed my thoughts on her and I can gladly say I'm a fan.  She made a really good pop record and I she has a bright future ahead of her.  She has some amazing people that helped write and produce with her and I enjoy the album overall.  The 80's pop gems on here are fantastic, keep doing you Carly Rae Jepsen. 

RM: There was immense pressure on Carly Rae Jepsen to deliver something good after the success of "Call Me Maybe." She may not have nay hits of that size with EMOTION, but the record is the most complete and adventurous piece of work she has done in her career. It will be something that will have staying power for quite some time.

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