Wanna hear an amazing synth-pop album? Listen to Emotion by Carly Rae Jepsen. Wanna hear a pretty good synth-pop album? Listen to Dedicated by Carly Rae Jepsen. While listening through this record a handful of times, one thing is clear: its predecessor has much more to offer. Nearly four years ago Emotion gave the “Call Me Maybe” girl a cult following. It proved she was more than a flash in the pan. That record showcased what made 80s pop music so iconic. She paid homage to the past yet updated the sound for a new generation simultaneously. Is it the greatest pop album you’ll ever hear? Nah, probably not. However, it was easily one of the best albums of its release year. And even one of the best pop albums of the decade. Her bubbly, love-struck approach brightens up any room. There are moments like that on Dedicated.
For example, album opener “Julien” is arguably the best song here. Although the notion of starting an album with the most memorable track disappoints me, this song puts me in a great mood every time I hear it. Across this album Carly Rae details a love just outside her reach. Julien is a man she once saw herself being with forever. In spite of the heartbreak he caused her, she still wishes they could be together. When her lyrics portray specific emotions, Jepsen and her team are top-tier writers. One element this album does not lack is consistently catchy songwriting. Some of my favorites include: “Happy Not Knowing,” “Automatically in Love,” and “No Drug Like Me.” The latter was one of five singles leading up to the release of this album. The confidence she displays on it, as well as “Party for One,” is refreshing among the somewhat timid majority.
For the most part, the singles (“Now That I Found You;” “Julien;” “No Drug Like Me”) deliver solid promotional value for the record. Yet none of these quite resonate deeply enough to carry an entire album. In my opinion, Dedicated is to Emotion what Solange’s When I Come Home is to A Seat at the Table. Both successors attempt to double down on the acclaim of their former by executing a similar art or sonic style. The high-quality steadiness of Emotion opened Carly to a wider audience. Now with more eyes on her, it seems she chose the safe route. Many of the instrumentals here feature typical pop sounds and progressions. The percussion, especially on tracks like “Everything He Needs,” “For Sure,” and “Too Much,” is rather dry and flavorless. Jepsen appears anxious as a vocalist as these songs have a tendency to stiff-arm verses in favor of hooks.
Though this is not uncommon for pop artists, it does make a bulk of the record blend together. Since Carly’s voice isn’t anything out of the ordinary, song structure and production play a vital role. Nevertheless, these producers let me down. The album’s back half is almost entirely snooze-worthy. Songs like “Real Love” and the culturally appropriated “For Sure” are cornball pop efforts. Despite mentioning a good number of highlights, I mark this record as a missed opportunity for Ms. Jepsen. She tried to strike gold twice with the same formula yet the infectious energy of Emotion had its moment in time. Regardless of my complaints, though, I am glad Dedicated is getting positive reviews from other critics. Hopefully those scores will translate into higher streams and sales. I am undoubtedly in Carly’s corner. However, as a whole, this album needs a follow-up within the next two years.