December 9, 2023

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Carly Rae Jepsen: The Loneliest Time Album Review

Cynicism is typically an unwelcome visitor in Carly Rae Jepsen’s castle. She is a sword-wielding cult hero with an army of believers: in the authority of a fluttering heart, in the gulf between desire and desperation, and most importantly, in the cathartic potential of a verse, chorus, and bridge. Since unleashing her starry-eyed worldview with the breakout 2012 hit “Call Me Maybe,” Jepsen has written songs like Ask Polly letters, full of breathless confessions and earnest wondering.

Yet there is cynicism to be found on The Loneliest Time, Jepsen’s fifth album. It’s folded into “Beach House,” the second single, which chronicles the singer’s misadventures with a series of unsavory men, from a pitiful mama’s boy to someone else’s husband to a (presumably fictional) Jeffrey Dahmer type. Sacrificing melody for character voices, the song chugs along mechanically, as if played by the Chuck E. Cheese house band. Making its unsubtle bid for relevance at a time when social media is flooded with first-person Hinge horror stories, “Beach House” feels corny and dated on arrival. Worse, from Jepsen’s mouth, it sounds plain wrong. Dating sucks; men are terrible. We’ve heard this before—but from the person who brought us “Cut to the Feeling” and “Now That I Found You”?

Though in many ways a red herring, “Beach House” suggests that Jepsen, who has invested heavily in swooning ’80s pop, is looking to diversify her portfolio. The Loneliest Time considers possible paths: dialing her typical pop maximalism up to outrageous new levels of camp; dialing it back to featherweight easy listening. But Jepsen seems more interested in earmarking ideas than in formulating an overarching aesthetic proposition. In the spaces between these experiments, she’s in familiar form, dropping rapturous lyrics into fizzy synth songs like sugar cubes into champagne. The Loneliest Time isn’t the introduction of a new era—a marketing concept that demands artists reinvent themselves every few years (particularly if they are women who have aged out of the term “ingénue”). It’s just a new album. And it’s just fine.

Jepsen’s best new ideas are found on “Western Wind,” a gorgeous meeting of music and message where Rostam stops by to play congas and help Jepsen realize her earth-toned dreams of a love as natural and all-encompassing as the elements. His fingerprints are all over this track, which recalls the gentle percussiveness of Haim’s “Summer Girl” and the graceful unspooling of Maggie Rogers’ “Fallingwater,” two other standout singles for their respective artists that he produced. I would gladly take five more “Western Wind”s, but the next-closest thing is “Far Away,” a song about trying to stay grounded that ends up rollerblading down Rainbow Road, aux percussion section in tow. Rostam reappears only on “Go Find Yourself or Whatever,” a lighters-up ballad whose sentimentality is winningly cut with a dash of snark.

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