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Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated Music Album Reviews

On her fourth album, the Canadian pop star is doing what she does best, calibrating lovesick or lovelorn synthpop that’s neither too hot nor too cold—and sometimes, regrettably, only lukewarm.

Carly Rae Jepsen ties up bright, ribbony pop songs with the magnetism of a person who’s a little too modest to be a pop star. She goes for the big feelings, and as a result, inspires near-rapturous devotion. Jepsen’s most ardent fans feel called to defend her, to arm her with a sword, to catalyze the moment that will reveal her magic beyond doubt. With 2015’s E•MO•TION, they nearly had it; I’ll go one further and say that its follow-up, the overflow collection E•MO•TION Side B, is the better listen. Dedicated, Jepsen’s fourth full-length album, returns to her signature combination of self-aware innocence and mature restraint, though its greater purpose is not always quite clear. She’s doing what she does best, calibrating lovesick or lovelorn synthpop that’s neither too hot nor too cold—and sometimes, regrettably, only lukewarm.

Dedicated takes a more relaxed approach to Jepsen’s well-established penchant for ’80s pop. By her own description, the album began under the working title of “Music to Clean Your House To,” a characteristically unassuming goal. The windshield-wiper synths that open “Julien” or the casual autopilot of “Automatically in Love” point to Jepsen’s other guiding aesthetic: “chill disco,” a mood that vaunts sparkling melodies over writing that can feel short on intrigue. Each of these upbeat yet tasteful jams is sturdy enough to spur you through another load of laundry, and light on the kind of indulgent flourishes that spawned “Run Away With Me” saxophone memes. The total effect is glossy, but the individual moments shine a little less; few lines here have the breathless potency of, “Late night watching television/But how’d we get in this position?”

Everything in Jepsen’s world always comes back to love, and in the past, the feeling was usually unrequited. That’s changed now; on Dedicated, love is more assured of itself, and for the first time, distinctly sexy. Rarely has her singing sounded so breathy and astonished. “No Drug Like Me” describes the intoxication of new love as a dry-mouthed truth serum; “The Sound” can play like a plea for spoken commitment, or something altogether more carnal. “Like pressure points my love can ease him in my hands,” Jepsen sings on “Everything He Needs,” an unlikely and lightly risqué flip of “He Needs Me,” the Harry Nilsson-written song performed by Shelley Duvall’s Olive Oyl in the 1980 film Popeye. “Want You in My Room,” a scene-stealing Jack Antonoff production, wields its pitch-shifted hook like a conspiratorial voice disguise. “I’m like a lighthouse/I’m a reminder of where you’re goin’,” Jepsen sings, the kind of clever line that’s often missing here. She’s also used it before, on E•MO•TION’s “All That,” so she must really mean it.

Though an album of coy disco romance is a good thing, at times Dedicated strains in other directions. The pastel EDM-pop bounce of “Now That I Found You” comes closest to the reckless joy of Jepsen’s single “Cut to the Feeling,” a song impossible to improve on. “Happy Not Knowing” takes a more classically CRJ approach to romance with its “please don’t tell me” appeal to a crush, but perhaps the territory is too familiar. “I’ll only go so far/I don’t have the energy/To risk a broken heart/When you’re already killing me,” Jepsen sings, because she’s loved and lost, and she mostly just sounds bummed about it. These should be some of the album’s best songs, but they feel wiped clean of the messy ambiguities that fog up real emotions.

As with E•MO•TION, Jepsen wrote a lot of songs for this album—more than 100—and ultimately a few too many made the cut. Some of the weakest tracks are swallowed up in their expertly interlocked sequences of pre-chorus and chorus; the verses to “Right Words Wrong Time” feel like afterthoughts. The extra distractions hide potential sleeper hits like the funk-lite of “Feels Right” and the balmy, vulnerable “Real Love,” which deserves to be a standout. But by the time the album ends with last November’s single “Party for One,” it’s been displaced, lost in the shuffle of a transitional album with its heart set but its mind not yet quite made up.

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