Carly Rae Jepsen reinvigorates synth-pop with nuanced charm

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Interscope Records/Courtesy

Let’s get two things out of the way: Yes, Carly Rae Jepsen really, really likes you, and she’ll call you — maybe. But it’s time to erase all preconceptions of the Canadian star as a faceless one-hit wonder with a proclivity for repetitive choruses. Jepsen’s third studio album, Emotion (stylized as E•MO•TION), is a triumphant feat of sparkling synth-pop that emotes without an overproduced aftertaste.

Emotion is a marked improvement from the tween-pop tunes of her previous album, Kiss. The latter — a bland collection of electro dance-floor fillers — suffered from the lingering shadow cast by her 2012 chart-dominating hit, “Call Me Maybe.” Her latest album, however, succeeds on most levels precisely because she forgoes the faux-teenybopper naivete of her previous hit without losing the innocent thrill of discovering young love.

Upon first listen, it’s easy to write off Emotion as a direct transfusion of retro-pop DNA into the current airwaves. From the synthesized sax stabs that kick off the fantastic “Run Away With Me” to the chugging drum beat that drives the “just-friends” power ballad “Your Type,” Emotion is a “Where’s Waldo?” game of Jepsen’s ’80s icons. But the album never diverges into a shameless pillaging of Madonna’s or Cyndi Lauper’s greatest hits. Instead, Jepsen imprints these heavily tread new-wave tropes with a sensibility that unites past pop divas with her undercurrent of weirdness.

In her broad strokes, she formulates grand gestures out of standard teen rom-com fare. Twinkly, synth-heavy instrumentations are the soundtracks to sleepless nights (“Making Most of the Night”), night drives (“Let’s Get Lost”) and drunken kiss-offs (“Emotion”).

Emotion occasionally veers into more subtle, left-field territory that sheds Jepsen’s mainstream sheen to great effect. There’s the Kavinsky-meets-”Twilight” thump of highlight “Warm Blood,” courtesy of Vampire Weekend multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, and the starry-night synths of early promotional single “All That.” Still, Jepsen never strays from Emotion’s sentimentality — “All That” a swooning, piano-led devotional that serves as the thematic core of the album.

What Jepsen instinctively understands and instills throughout Emotion is that teenage feelings run heavy: First kisses are tantamount to fireworks, and first heartbreaks may as well be cataclysmic. Jepsen never wavers from this innocently theatrical take on infatuation on Emotion, and as a result, she distills pure gold into an hour’s worth of songs on what could be one of the best pop albums of the year.

 

Contact Joshua Bote at [email protected].