Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Kiss’: Album Review

Carly Rae Jepsen wasn’t the likeliest candidate to save pop music, but with “Call Me Maybe”, the Canadian Idol runner-up invigorated charts gone ponderous with the self-pity of Gotye and a seemingly endless string of Flo Rida club bangers. Even with Justin Bieber‘s invaluable stamp of approval (and management courtesy of the Biebs’ career mastermind Scooter Braun), the runaway success of “Call Me Maybe” had a meritocratic bent — there was no resisting those strings. Jepsen may not be the most charismatic songbird to top the charts, and she doesn’t have Ke$ha‘s glitter-crusted zaniness, Katy Perry‘s lusty populism, Taylor Swift‘s endless well of heartache or Adele‘s vocal chops. She doesn’t need them: She has really good songs.

Kiss, out , follows Jepsen’s 2011 EP Curiosity and delivers nicely on the promise of “Call Me Maybe,” and then some. That song’s breezy charm and the hit-by-numbers Owl City collab “Good Time” notwithstanding, Kiss is fresh and timely. Even if its curious chasteness seems more befitting a squeaky-clean Disney triple threat than the 27-year-old woman that Jepsen actually is, there’s something refreshing about hearing romance explored without the obligatory come-hither lyricism that serve as a prerequisite for contemporary pop tarts.

The production is uniformly modern and more robust than her first two singles suggest, courtesy of a laundry list of hitmakers ranging from the obvious (Max Martin, Bonnie McKee) to the less predictable — LMFAO‘s Redfoo contributes album standout “More Than A Memory” and the deliciously J-poppy new single “This Kiss,” both of which, fortunately, sound like nothing on Sorry For Party Rocking. The former song may not pummel hard enough for radio, but “I’m not over you, are you over me?/Are we gonna be more than a memory?” is one of the album’s many fine couplets. McKee’s contribution, on the clubby, synth-spangled “Turn Me Up,” serves up another: “What am I to do, and how’s it gonna be?/Cause breaking us in two is breaking me in pieces.”

If at times Kiss is saccharine, it nonetheless feels sincere, and Jepsen’s voice proves a surprisingly effective instrument, since she doesn’t need an extraordinary range to be one of the more emotive vocalists in the game. Still, Kiss packs a few misfires. The hotly anticipated Justin Bieber collaboration, “Beautiful,” will likely please Bieber’s fans (as do all of his efforts), but disappoints here; while their harmonies are lovely, the lyrics and melody are pedestrian as a Jason Mraz B-side, bereft of the cleverness that’s wielded so effortlessly elsewhere on the album. “Guitar String / Wedding Ring” is conceptually appealing, but the execution verges on clumsy, and by the tail end of the album, all that sweetness is bound to give most listeners a sugar headache. Still, songcraft this slick is a rarity. It makes Kiss one of the most listenable mainstream pop releases of the year, which should not only produce several more monster singles for Jepsen, but cement her place as one of pop’s strongest artists — even if she’s also one of the slightest.

The Best Song Wasn’t The Single: The Max Martin-penned “Tonight I’m Getting Over You.” Not only is the tremor in Jepsen’s voice in the pre-chorus one of the year’s most heartbreaking pop moments, but the chorus then performs the nifty trick of transforming the track from a “Give Your Heart A Break”-esque Top 40 lollipop into a noisy, crunchy rave-a-thon.

Pops Like: Your garden-variety Hollywood Records release (think Demi Lovato or Selena Gomez), but sharper, denser, and “Call Me Maybe”-ier.

Best Listened To: After heartbreak, but only the relatively shallow kind. Truly wrenching matters of the heart might be best medicated with, say, Frank Ocean‘s Channel Orange.

Full Disclosure: This reviewer is a pop purist with a sonic sweet tooth who, late some nights, ugly-cries to Aly & AJ album tracks. Accept this praise with a healthy grain of salt.

Idolator Rating: 4/5

Sam Lansky