“I wanna be open/ I wanna be honest with you,” Carly Rae Jepsen sings in “Surrender My Heart,” the opening track to her latest album. In the metallic pop extravaganza that is The Loneliest Time, Jepsen delivers honesty in some major moments of vulnerability while simultaneously curating a clubbable sonic atmosphere. Released Oct. 21, Jepsen’s record flickers between the purposeful shallowness of dance pop and profoundly substantial lyricism with practiced grace.
Her sixth studio album since her 2008 debut, The Loneliest Time is yet another still-emerging product of the surprisingly fruitful 2020 quarantine. The record is tacky with bubblegum sweetness, but enjoyably so; listening to it is a bit like looking into a carnival funhouse mirror with cotton candy in your teeth. Showcasing a variety of time periods and styles, Jepsen still manages to maintain a cohesive flow throughout the album.
Disco works itself up into a sweat on sparkling tracks such as “Bad Thing Twice” and “Shooting Star,” setting the scene in a black-lit nightclub, the decades pulsing in and out with the lights as Jepsen experiments with sound. The transition between the songs panders to ’80s nostalgia; the bounce of the synth in “Bad Thing Twice” slowly quiets with the classically ’80s fade-out before reappearing right away for “Shooting Star,” sweeping the listener away into the sweaty haze of disco’s dreamland.
Despite the buoyant bliss of Jepsen’s take on dance pop, the record’s strongest moments are its more subdued ones, where the honesty she promises in “Surrender My Heart” prevails. The record’s token ballad, “Go Find Yourself or Whatever,” is a memorable example of openness that’s moving, even if it does resort to some cliches. Her voice coasts on its soaring melody with rich and emotional sweetness, an impressive contrast from the danceable songs that precede it.
This ethereality is also seen in songs such as “Far Away,” which is joyously hopeful and rooted in sincerity, and “Bends,” the stutteringly sad rumination on the sudden death of a family member. Taking lyrics from “Sun on You,” an unreleased demo off her second album Kiss, “Bends” is Jepsen’s 11-year maturation, offering vulnerability at its most poignant and heartstring-tugging.
However, the album’s shining jewel is its main single, “Western Wind.” Simultaneously calm and cathartic, every element of the song glows, trailing a pop finger across the rippled surface of folk and indie. Jepsen’s voice glides, light and airy as if carried along by the western wind itself; like gossamer, the lyrics shimmer with delicate simplicity, and the production’s wide range of instruments successfully fill the song’s silhouette with melancholy.
There are moments in the album where cohesion gives way to songs blurring together and the dance pop begins to edge into the uninspired, but they are few and far between. Its continuous bounce back is proof of its prowess. Ultimately, The Loneliest Time excels in its seamless blending of songs with several vastly different vibes and styles, even including a swathe of bonus tracks that stand out for their bite.
Revitalization closes out the album, featuring acclaimed singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright on the electrifying title track “The Loneliest Time.” Jepsen’s voice stuns, and Wainwright’s operatic influence saturates the song with theatricality. Their rich voices waltz together against the backdrop of fast-paced synth and breathtaking violins and cellos. Both intensely joyful and deeply compelling, this song is pop at its finest.
Like the album altogether, the song builds and builds until it reaches an extraordinarily satisfying catharsis, the ascending strings an almost holy backdrop for Jepsen’s description of the sun hitting the water. “Is this Nirvana?” she sings. This sentiment exquisitely captures the essence of The Loneliest Time in all of its according moments: the energizing peaks of the ’80s pop tracks, the transcendence of the experimental and the soaring self acceptance running deep throughout the album.