Carly Rae Jepsen’s latest full-length release, Dedicated, comes after several years worth of pining from her fans. As each year passed, it was going to be increasingly difficult to meet or exceed fan expectations (and let’s face it, most people prefer to have their expectations exceeded). What Dedicated does is remind us that Jepsen’s greatest feature is not surprise-dazzling us with unforeseen metamorphoses in sound or by a quick turnaround when a tumultuous personal life calls for it (hello, Beyoncé and Ariana) but in being so damn consistent and a one-woman fountain of pop hooks. So, rather than offer up anything completely “new,” Jepsen gives us the goods she delivered with her last album Emotion, albeit with a little more polish. Similarly to Emotion, Dedicated also features a few songs that one can take or leave; but when every song is performed with such dedication by the artist, none of the tracks are ever a throwaway.
The album begins strong with “Julien,” a disco-lite song about one who got away, which sets the musical and emotional tone of the album well. With its shimmery sound effects and dance-ability, it sounds like someone took at least a half teaspoon of recent Daft Punk and sprinkled it into the recipe. At the same time, Jepsen’s gleefully uncomplicated rhymes echo the similar skills of pop greats ABBA (the rhyme of “Julien /… to the end” especially invokes the joyful simplicity of “Waterloo/ couldn’t escape if I wanted to”). The instant hooks of ABBA, mixed with a dash of Moroder-influenced disco-pop can be found in the majority of the best songs on Dedicated.
“No Drug Like Me” continues the slinky, polished vibe of “Julien,” and introduces a common theme of the album, that of being fully emotionally invested and available in every experience, unapologetically. In “No Drug,” Jepsen sings how easily she’ll “blossom for you,” professing how unafraid she is to return love with love ten times over. In the later track “Too Much,” she confesses that whatever she does – drink, dance, think – she does it all “too much,” and she knows some people can’t handle that, but she’s not about to change, because for other people, that “too much-ness” can be intoxicating. It certainly is appealing as a listener, to hear a pop album made in a vein not often seen in the hits anymore: just basics, no irony, no distance through a character, no icy “cool.” The lyrics aren’t even very personal—or perhaps we just (thankfully) don’t know very much about Jepsen’s personal life—and that level of vagueness in the lyrics makes these pop songs universal for whatever situation you desire. The music feels equally created for the use of the listener, and for Jepsen, if not a little more for the former.
“Now That I Found You,” the single released in conjunction with the latest uber-positive season of Queer Eye, plays slightly less sickly sweet when listened to within the album, but it is still the equivalent of this album’s “Call Me Maybe” or “I Really Like You.” For some reason, the single that gets the most airplay from every album is the most sugary of each release; although this one is the worst offender yet. I find that interesting if slightly confounding, if for no other reason than that she always has more compelling songs to choose from which deserve a lot of positive attention. Here the tracks that come right after “Now That I Found You” are two of the most delightful, and surprising, songs on the album.
“Want You in My Room,” produced by the requisite pop producer of this era Jack Antonoff, is a warm, beachside party-ready jam that is surprisingly sexy, and flirty in the most enjoyable way. Jepsen delivers frank lines like “I want you in my room/on the bed/on the floor… I don’t care anymore/I wanna do bad things to you” with the maturity of a 30-something who just knows what she wants, along with the best way to get it. The song is carried along by an energetic drum beat and optimistic synth notes that make it feel suffused with sunshine.
“Everything He Needs” is a delightful song that puts on display Jepsen’s latent musical nerdiness, as it revolves around a sampling of “He Needs Me,” the Harry Nilsson-penned song from Robert Altman’s odd duck 1980 film Popeye (you may also know it as that song from Punch Drunk Love). Jepsen adds a self-aware, buoyant funkiness to the song that makes it easy to imagine the love-struck sailor man and the slinky beanpole Olive Oyl bouncing along down the street to this tune. Additionally, the title echoes another great pop hit, Wham’s “Everything She Wants,” with the distinctions indicating the strength of Jepsen’s connection to her subject. Here, the song isn’t about a beleaguered man trying to give a demanding woman everything she “wants,” it’s an up-tempo bop about a woman who knows she already has everything her man needs.
Up-tempo is the key here: even when Jepsen is singing starkly about jealousy, or about doubting the veracity of a lover’s words – as in “I’ll Be Your Girl” and “The Sound”—the songs are never quite able to slow down to ballad-speed. A slow song isn’t necessarily needed here, but it would enrich the experience to have some more variety in tone and delivery.
We do get that a bit towards the end of the album, after a few less dynamic songs in the center. “Automatically in Love” serves up a ‘90s R’n’B-lite mood with its production, while Jepsen’s performance is just turned down enough to match the mood created with the music. “Feels Right,” featuring Electric Guest and Asa Taccone on vocals, adds to the album with its ecstatic chorus that finds the two performers trading off, with Jepsen’s subtle rasp coming through clearer with her cheeky delivery of “now I got ya, and I only think of you.”
The standard release of the album ends at 13 tracks, with “Real Love.” This song is a solid album ender, with Jepsen expertly distilling the desire found in nearly all of her music (“I just want real, real love”) and pairing it with a musical riff that is just begging to be remixed into an incredible club hit. The extended album contains two more songs, but only one, “Party for One,” is really worth the addition. Although released a while ago, this song remains a joyful and straightforward pop jam in the purest sense.
So, does Dedicated exceed expectations? Not quite, but it certainly meets them and when your pop songwriting ability is as sharp as Jepsen’s, that is more than enough. While Dedicated is an overall polished piece of work, and no song feels incomplete, it could have stood to lose a few tracks that sparkle just a bit less than the fabulous standouts. If the extra edges had been sloughed off, the album might pack a slightly more powerful punch. Even considering all of that, Dedicated is effective and, in the most Jepsen way, a consistent slice of ultimate pop music that will get its hooks into you and make you move—or at the very least, hum a chorus or two all day long. If Jepsen can throw a few more left hooks in there with her next album, the Queen of Pop throne is hers.