A highly-decorated Canadian popstar (or rather, pop icon) emerges from a period of isolation. Yet, rather than wielding her usual sword, she carries a “labor of love“. This is Carly Rae Jepsen and ‘The Loneliest Time’ – her sixth studio album, and another body of chart-pop perfection. Right? Wrong.
‘The Loneliest Time’ sees Jepsen once again neatly distilling emotion into captivating melodies, but with a big handful of inspiration from genres skirting the edges of her sound. From folk to disco, ‘The Loneliest Time’ refashions Carly Rae Jepsen’s upbeat bravado into pensive pop, eager to reconnect bodies to their world. Yet the album isn’t just another lockdown diary. Instead, Jepsen proffers a reintroduction to relationships with the knowledge she gained, funnily enough, through loneliness.
The album frequently features downtempo moments of introspection, taking a left turn akin to that of Lorde’s latest release ‘Solar Power’. “I’ve created a world of escapism in music,” Jepsen explains, “But what I wanted to offer with this album is permission to actually connect to whatever it is you need to feel.” Perhaps the best example of this is ‘Far Away’, with simplistic island percussion and a choral flair drawing attention to self-aware lyrics: “I’d give this love a second try / First I just imagined all your qualities and that’s my fault.”
Stripped of her usual pop velour, fans see more of the authentic Carly Rae Jepsen, growing with her as one grows with a favourite pair of jeans – dependable, flexible, yet always in vogue. This accessibility is what makes ‘The Loneliest Time’ so digestible.
Perhaps the only exception is ‘Beach House’ – where a markedly upbeat disco bassline acts as the backdrop for some pretty disastrous dating app experiences. A definitive bop, ‘Beach House’ may be humorous, but it’s also incongruous, feeling superficial in comparison to the remainder of the project.
Other callbacks to Jepsen’s earlier discography of joyous pop include the album’s strong synthy opener; ‘Surrender My Heart’. Introducing the album’s bravery amongst oscillating synths and lovesick lyrics, this feels more like Jepsen 2.0. Like many albums of 2022, ‘The Loneliest Time’ revisits disco, adding an easygoing, polished element of production. In ‘So Nice’, Jepsen details a relationship saturated with joy and admiration, transcribing the honeymoon phase into a disco-tinged track flecked with glitter.
‘So Nice’, like most of ‘The Loneliest Thing’ is less dancefloor fillers, and more of a musical score to contemplation. Her ‘Folklore’, if you will. Instead, the songwriter ruminates on things lost to time, like the sensual ‘Talking To Yourself’, in which guitar battles synth, whilst Carly Rae Jepsen tackles feelings for an old flame.
The masochistic temptations of returning to past loves is another recurring theme throughout the project, such as ‘Go Find Yourself or Whatever’, which provides a cynical, folk-leaning addition to the project. ‘Bad Thing Twice’ resists picking at old wounds, with the lyrical intensity Jepsen’s pop is renowned for: “I don’t remember you / I try not to go there… You were born in a different moon”. Little nudges toward astrology and great big winks toward nature see the moon as the main character; Jepsen is never lonely under the starry sky. Track two is one of many musical pilgrimages to ‘Joshua Tree’, but this is perhaps the most disenchanted. Gritty guitar rockets its way to a disappointing chorus that never seems to take off. ‘Joshua Tree’ feels like all build and no bounty, but as Jepsen quotes, “California dreaming’s never what it seems.”
In comparison to a massive track like fan favourite ‘The Loneliest Time’, ‘Joshua Tree’ pales in comparison, a waxing crescent to the power ballad’s new moon. The album’s eponymous final single is served as a disco collab with one of Jepsen’s heroes, Rufus Wainwright. Camp and catchy, the track sees Wainwright’s buttery vocals rehashing a lonely fantasy of going back to your exes – ammo to soundtrack the darkness of the oncoming cuffing season. Accompanied by a music video melding the disco aesthetic and vibes of Old Hollywood, Jepsen is reaffirming her cult gay icon status.
‘Keep Away’ is the album’s closer, and although marked as a bonus track, it feels like the definitive ending to the sentimental project. A painful goodbye to an ex, or an audible warning to steer clear of suffering, harmonies and emotions are stacked high in this slow jam. Sensual melancholia is coaxed out of sober synths. “God I miss your hands on my body” croons Jepsen, confronted by backing vocals insisting “keep away, away” – a reminder acting as an apt summary of the record’s message.
‘The Loneliest Time’ feels a far cry from the saccharine star that launched Jepsen’s career but proves her musical pliability. Country-pop album next, anyone?
Words: Gem Stokes