Album Review: “The Loneliest Time”

Carly Rae Jepsen moves beyond her bubblegum-pop roots on “The Loneliest Time,” but an inconsistent sound hampers the album as a whole.

It’s been 10 years since Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit-filled sophomore album, “Kiss,” propelled the Canadian artist into the consciousness of every Millenial and Gen Z pop fan. She’d already had moderate success in her musical career pre-”Kiss,” placing third on “Canadian Idol” in 2007, but it was her breakout single “Call Me Maybe” that made her a pop phenomenon. In the decade since Jepsen’s big break, she’s had a healthy number of chart-toppers (including the one lip-synced by Tom Hanks), but for those who haven’t kept up with her career, it may come as a surprise that she has just released her sixth studio album. That’s right — Jepsen has kept herself busy over the years, producing a steady output of bubblegum- and dance-pop tracks. Her latest project, “The Loneliest Time,” delivers everything a CRJ fan could want: whimsical relationship musings, danceable beats, and a dreamy, candy-coated aesthetic that makes certain songs feel like they’re pulled straight from a sunny, summer-love romance movie.

Of course, it’s not entirely more of the same from Jepsen. The new album shows the pop princess pushing her boundaries sonically and offering more than a few surprises along the way. A big one is the titular track, “The Loneliest Time,” featuring fellow Canadian artist Rufus Wainwright. Despite what its name would suggest, this is no dismal, wallowing song. Rather, it’s an upbeat, disco-inspired track about the desire to reignite an unfinished love story after having “the loneliest time,” post-breakup. Jepsen and Wainwright’s vocals are an unexpected combination, but the duo is surprisingly seamless together. The instrumental flourishing between their harmonies gives the song an infectious energy a la the ‘70s disco classics you hear at the roller rink. It’s easily the best track on the album — and certainly the most fun.

The disco influence is woven into a few other tracks, but bubblegum-, dance-, and synth-pop reign supreme. Jepsen culls the influences of various decades to make the album’s 13 tracks stand out from her previous oeuvre. Album opener “Surrender My Heart” channels the ‘80s, even having a very “In The Air Tonight” drum moment before jumping into its catchy chorus. Synth-infused songs “So Nice” and “Joshua Tree” have similar sounds. “Sideways” and “Far Away” take on a slightly more R&B flavor, the former track featuring that sparkly sound that noughties artists of that genre loved to overuse. Single “Western Wind” is a reminder of Jepsen’s folk-inspired first album, while the cheekily-titled ”Go Find Yourself or Whatever” could pass for a coffee shop acoustic tune. Despite the variety of influences, however, many of the tracks fail to move from interesting to remarkable. Jepsen deserves props for trying out different sounds, but her hesitance to move past a surface-level homage leaves the decade-dabbling feeling unmemorable.

On the album’s stronger tracks, the pop veteran reminds us of her lyricism’s power to convey familiar feelings in creative ways (like the ever-iconic verse in “Call Me Maybe” telling a newfound crush “Before you came into my life/ I missed you so bad”). Humorous track “Beach House” chronicles dates gone wrong, with Jepsen musing, “I’ve been on this ride/ This rollercoaster’s a carousel/ And I’m getting nowhere.” Male vocalists pipe in with lines reminiscent of the typical Tinder horror story: “I’ve got a lake house in Canada/ And I’m probably gonna harvest your organs,” they sing nonchalantly. On the breakup-inspired “Talking To Yourself,” Jepsen asks, “Do you talk to me when you’re talking to yourself?,” echoing the relatable paradox of wanting someone you’re done with to be thinking of you. Jepsen also has a few duds, from the distracting use of the word “skipper” in “Bad Thing Twice” to the cliche metaphors that fill out sappy song “So Nice.” Luckily, the lyrical fumbles are outnumbered by quotable lines and sassy quips that show Jepsen hasn’t lost her touch.

It’s understandable that a sixth album would feature experimentation. How else could Jepsen keep things fresh or display her growth as an artist? Longtime and returning listeners will surely appreciate her new, multi-genre era for its novelty. Jepsen knows how to make solid pop tunes, even if they don’t quite rise to the viral, chart-topping status of her earlier work. Despite its quiet debut (on the same day as Taylor Swift’s “Midnights,” unfortunately), “The Loneliest Time” proves Jepsen is still an artist worth paying attention to — especially if you’re a ‘10s pop fan. For those who have been out of the loop with Jepsen post-”Kiss,” this album might make you realize what’s been missing from your playlist all these years.

Grade: B-
Release Date: Oct 21, 2022

Image courtesy of Entertainment Weekly

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