Oct 26, 2022
By Chris Thiessen
Carly Rae Jepsen built her career on the peripheries of love—the first move toward a crush on mega-hit “Call Me Maybe,” the Springsteenian desire to escape life’s worries with a lover on “Run Away With Me,” and the haunting daydreams of missed opportunities on “Julien.” She immortalizes these ephemeral moments, preserving them in amber with glistening synthesizers and candied dance-pop melodies. There’s a childlikeness to Jepsen’s musical pursuit of love which could open itself to critiques of being too fantastical or escapist. But on her new album, The Loneliest Time—an obligatory pandemic album which touches on the near-universal move toward heightened introspection and desire for personal relationship—Jepsen tiptoes a bit deeper into love’s depths without abandoning her devotion to fun as a prime virtue.
Like on her acclaimed 2015 album, Emotion, this album’s opener—a driving electropop anthem about becoming more vulnerable titled “Surrender My Heart”—is a hard act to beat (“I paid to toughen up in therapy/She said to me, ‘soften up’”). At times, Jepsen does soften up and invite us into her intimate moments. Rostam Batmanglij collaboration “Western Wind” is marked by the former Vampire Weekend member’s typical breeziness, allowing Jepsen’s energetic voice to turn to a gentle whisper as she recount intimate, idyllic memories with her love interest. Rostam’s other contribution, “Go Find Yourself or Whatever”—a tearful breakup ballad of acquiescence with just a glimmer of reverb-washed hope—is even more tender in its portrayal of love’s end (“I wake up hollow/You made me vulnerable/So go find yourself or whatever/I hope it treats you better than I could do”).
These moments, though exceptional, are in fact the musical exception. The Loneliest Time is still a dance record, and Jepsen bounces all across the sonic spectrum looking to curate the grooviest sounds from across pop history. It’s a blast, even if not particularly cohesive or inventive. Jepsen plays heavily into pop music’s current nostalgia obsession, drawing on familiar ’80s synthpop and funk-pop tropes to lift songs like “Far Away” and “Shooting Star.” The title track, too—a schmaltzy piece of disco glitz featuring Rufus Wainwright that dangerously blurs the line between brilliance and mawkishness—features a flourish of strings that is sure to bring to mind a Michael Jackson hit. However, perhaps the most outrageous fun comes on single “Beach House,” an appropriately summery jam recounting all the walking red flags Jepsen has encountered in her past (“I’ve got a lake house in Canada/And I’m probably gonna harvest your organs” is a laugh out loud moment).
As fun as this record is (I mean, it’s a Carly Rae Jepsen record, which is basically the definition of “fun”), the loneliness and weight of the last three years definitely seem to be holding Jepsen back from reaching the euphoria of, say, “Cut to the Feeling” or “I Really Like You.” To be honest, we shouldn’t expect to return so quickly to those emotional peaks after a season of intense loneliness. The Loneliest Time finds Jepsen taking a much needed (if small) step inward from the periphery she’s walked for a decade. Instead of “soldier[ing] through [her] hardest days,” here she embraces our human need for connectedness and surrender. All the while, she’s searching wholeheartedly for those hopeful moments, unforgettable feelings (even the superficial ones), and jubilant sounds that point toward a time when the sun hits the water and banishes the shadows of loneliness for good. (www.carlyraemusic.com)
Author rating: 7/10
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