To many people, their experience with Canadian pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen’s music starts and ends with her 2011 breakout hit “Call Me Maybe.” Those people are simply missing out on some of the best pop music of the decade.
In 2015, Jepsen, at the time labelled a one-hit wonder and expected to fall off the face of the Earth, released the album “E·MO·TION.” It was a commercial flop, but as time progressed, it has become one of the most well-regarded pop records of all time by fans and critics alike. Jepsen’s opus ushered in a new era of poptimism. In short, what “E·MO·TION” did was make pop cool to listen to. Pop artists such as Lorde and Charli XCX may no longer top charts, but they now have the freedom to experiment and make the music they want to make. Popstars are cult heroes.
Where is Carly Rae Jepsen now? After releasing 2 more full-length albums, “Dedicated” and “Dedicated Side B,” she is back with her newest project, “The Loneliest Time.”
The singles leading up to “The Loneliest Time” were very different to one another. “Western Wind” was a refreshing change of pace with a more acoustic sound than any of Jepsen’s prior work. The track’s indie and alt-pop aesthetic would sound right at home in Lorde’s 2021 album “Solar Power.” The second single “Beach House” would fit perfectly into the soundtrack of a 2000s teen movie, giving it a bit of nostalgic charm. Meanwhile, the final teaser “Talking to Yourself” most resembled the traditional Carly Rae Jepsen sound fans know and love. With clean, layered production and a bombastic chorus, “Talking to Yourself” was yet another pop anthem to add to Jepsen’s repertoire.
As listeners might have guessed from the singles, “The Loneliest Time” is Jepsen’s most diverse project yet. Yes, it still retains much of the bubblegum dance-pop that has defined her sound, but the album taps into styles Jepsen had not yet explored. Funk-influenced grooves and basslines are found on much of the tracklist. Although disco was flirted with to a degree on “Dedicated,” nowhere has it been more prominent in Jepsen’s music than on the title track. There is even some Americana and folk present on the track “Go Find Yourself or Whatever.”
Okay, so Carly Rae Jepsen is switching up her sound a bit, but is it good? With the first six tracks on the album clocking in at exactly three minutes or less, there is a risk that they could simply breeze by without making much of an impact. “Surrender My Heart” eases fans in with a familiar sound. With its lyrics about learning from past relationships and being vulnerable with your partner, it quickly creates momentum for the album to come. “Joshua Tree” has a weak, one-note chorus that unfortunately dampens this almost immediately, but “Talking to Yourself” once again revives it.
After the awkward percussion patterns of “Far Away,” the deliciously funky groove and cuteness of “Sideways” is a warm welcome. However, the heart wrenching “Bends” is where the album really starts to hit its stride. A relatively minimal track about the death of a family member, “Bends” reveals a new, vulnerable side of Jepsen’s music that fans have never been exposed to before. When the shimmering synth pads are introduced in the chorus, it feels like the sun peeking through the clouds after a storm.
“Shooting Star” is a glistening, disco-tinted highlight that begins with a one-night stand. “I might sleep with you tonight. If you wanna know why: Just because summertime, and you look fine,” Jepsen sings. Her spontaneous feelings blossom into deeper levels of romance as the song progresses; “I believe there’s a true connection with you and me.”
The following track, “Go Find Yourself or Whatever,” is a complete 180 in terms of sound. Jepsen taps into her inner Stevie Nicks and conjures feelings of reluctant acceptance over a partner leaving. She complements the acoustic, folky instrumental perfectly, creating a sense of finality that could easily serve as the ending of the album or a coming-of-age film.
The album’s closer, title track “The Loneliest Time,” is nothing short of magical. Enlisting the help of singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, Jepsen finishes the project with a throwback, disco-infused ode to trying love again with an ex. Sure, maybe you’ll regret it down the line, but in the moment, that doesn’t matter. As the duo repeats “And in the morning, sun hits the water. Is this nirvana?” you can’t help but smile.
Despite its slightly rocky start, “The Loneliest Time” is yet another quality project from Jepsen. Exploring themes of loneliness in different circumstances, whether it be from the loss of a family member in “Bends” or the departure of a partner she still has feelings for in “Go Find Yourself or Whatever”, Jepsen has made her most mature album yet. It might not touch the heights of “E·MO·TION” or even “Dedicated,” but that just speaks to the caliber of Jepsen’s work. “The Loneliest Time” reinforces the fact that Jepsen is one of the most consistent pop artists of our time.