While pop is essentially used to define popular music, there is actually a distinct lack of pure pop albums these days – the type that the Madonnas and Kylies of the world perfected back in the day. In 2015, most artists you’d call popstars are off dabbling in EDM or R&B rather than serving up pure pop. There’s a strong exception to that rule and that’s Taylor Swift who delivered a knockout with last year’s 1989 which traded purely in ‘80s-tinged pop. Now, we have Carly Rae Jepsen – the purveyor of one of pop’s most viral hits, Call Me Maybe. In many ways Jepsen’s third album E•MO•TION is similar to 1989, but somewhat surprisingly, it’s also better.
E•MO•TION could have easily been your usual Max Martin, Dr. Luke pop affair. In fact, Martin wrote for the album but didn’t make it on the final tracklisting. Instead, the album gathers together an unusual, erring-on-alternative list of musicians including Dev Hynes, Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij and Ariel Rechtshaid, who worked on HAIM and Sky Ferreira’s last LPs. They sit alongside usual hitmakers like Sia, Greg Kurstin and Shellback but together they have churned out a cohesive effort of polished pop-songs that manage to tick radio’s commercial boxes as well as appeal to more leftward leaning fans.
While Call Me Maybe sold 15 million copies, E•MO•TION doesn’t ever feel like an attempt to recreate it. It doesn’t try to disown it, but Jepsen seems to want to deliver more – a great album from beginning to end. Opening with the howling saxophone of Run Away With Me, the album serves up twelve near-perfect pop tunes one after the other – some with huge choruses, other relying on gentler, more hushed moments.
Nothing sounds like what we’re hearing on the radio right now even though the ridiculously catchy melodies may trick you into thinking it’s generic. Even first single I Really Like You brings a little more human to its commercial appeal with big, pounding drums and a repetitive chorus that emulates the endearing annoyances of Call Me Maybe.
While I Really Like You is the obvious hit here, it’s not the most likeable. The record has no shortage of golden tunes, striking as one of those albums that could easily have seven or eight singles if Jepsen had the star-power of Swift or Katy Perry. Sia’s contributions Making The Most Of The Night and Boy Problems are euphoric, girly tunes that, unlike many Sia-penned hits, manage to distance themselves from sounding like the songwriter. Both of the tracks are laden with funky guitar licks and ‘80s programmed drums – effortlessly melodic, but interestingly so. On top of that you have second single Run Away With Me which easily has the most anthemic chorus on the album, chanting with rushing energy.
The more unexpected, odd moments are the ones that are likely to hook you to E•MO•TION as a full body of work. Hynes is no stranger to pop, having produced for the original Sugababes MKS, Kylie Minogue and Solange Knowles, so it’s no surprise that he delivers a knockout here. All That is the LP’s subtlest moment, slowing the tempo right down and allowing Jepsen to sit right back on the beat. It’s here that we get to really hear the tone of her voice for the first time, maybe in her career, as she delivers a sweet, sultry performance.
Vampire Weekend’s Batmanglij is less known for his commercial work (although he did contribute to Charli XCX’s Sukcer) and his production on Warm Blood is suitably weird and warped. It’s also one of the album’s highlights with drunk synths and pitched-down vocals, turning Jepsen into an electronic disco-queen. “Warm blood feels good, I can’t control it anymore,” she sings in the chorus, creating an aptly warm, comfortable atmosphere. It may be the oddest track on the album but it’s also the one that plays to Jepsen’s strengths the best. It capitalises on her giddy lovelorn lyrics and softens her girlish voice while simultaneously making her cool.
When dissecting the record, the choice of producers is a main focus but that doesn’t mean that Jepsen is merely a robot on the album. She’s spoken openly about how she wanted to make E•MO•TION a cooler, more credible record and she chased down a lot of the producers like Dev Hynes, who she was attracted to after Solange’s Losing You. It doesn’t feel like Jepsen has lost herself in the search for credibility, rather she’s found a better way to relay her tales of boy-crushes and butterfly-ridden romances. None of the dorky charm of Call Me Maybe is lost on this record – on Let’s Get Lost she sings “Baby let’s get lost/I like that you’re driving slow/Keepin’ my fingers crossed/That maybe you’ll take the long way home.” It’s the same kind of what-could-be dreaming that made Call Me Maybe so daggy and adorable.
Over 100 songs were reportedly worked on for this album, eventually whittled down to 12, and yet E•MO•TION is a good example of keeping a pop album on track. When making commercial records, everyone from Rihanna to Madonna have made the mistake of cramming as many genres into 45 minutes as possible but here Jepsen sticks to her guns, revolving around that ‘80s pop sound and barely ever deviating. It’s a consistently tight album that never serves up a dud, never allowing you the chance to come down from your sugar high and doubt Jepsen’s comeback.
When a pop album is this good – full of big hooks, delicious licks and euphoric melodies – there’s no need for snobbery. Jepsen has been very smart in covering all angles, playing both to the radio and the alternative “high-brow” listener. It feels like a guilty pleasure but there should be no guilt in devouring this. E•MO•TION is not only the best pop album of the year but in the upper-echelon of releases this year and the best part is none of us were expecting it.
E•MO•TION is out Friday, 21st August.