Published May 16, 2019Carly Rae Jepsen's fourth studio album, Dedicated, starts inauspiciously, with nothing but the simple, understated synth throb. "Julien" is a warm, soft-disco tune that yearns for its titular character, whose subtle but insistent instrumentals and lyrical repetition of the name evoke the pangs that lost love brings.
It's a far cry from the grandiose saxophone blast that announce the beginning of E•MO•TION, but it's just as portentous: Dedicated is a more nuanced and subdued work than Jepsen's 2015 masterwork, trading in some of her last record's razzle-dazzle for a more refined emotional palette, but losing none of the songs' staying power.
Throughout Dedicated, Jepsen does what she does best, identifying isolated moments in love, freezing them, and blowing them up, widescreen, into a feeling. "Now That I Found You" begins with the moment in a relationship that things turn from casual to "Waking up next to you every moment," then explodes in its celebratory chorus; over the upbeat shuffle of "Happy Not Knowing," she ignores a problematic spark, having been through the emotional wringer enough that she's "Sure it's nothing but some heartburn"; "Right Words Wrong Time" castigates a romantic counterpart for constant indecision, as she sings, "Need to find a love to love me with no hesitation / don't you tell me now you're ready for me."
Fans have come to expect melodrama in Jepsen's work, and it's here in satisfying spades (she's got "Blurry eyes, feeling so intoxicated" on "No Drug Like Me"), but it's increasingly tempered by self-awareness. The entirety of "Too Much" is dedicated to her tendency to "Live for the fire, and the rain, and the drama too," but she's self-accepting ("I'm not afraid to know my heart's desire," she croons), and expects the same from her lover, giving fair warning: "If I love you then I'll love you too much."
Musically, most of the album adheres to the synth-y '80s sound that defined E•MO•TION and subsequent work, but the deviations from it are excellent. "I'll Be Your Girl" is an urgent, '90s guitar-and-horns bop that recalls No Doubt at their hooky best, while album closer "Real Love" sports a big, Balearic chorus as hopeful as it is melancholic.
And if Dedicated plays it a hint on the safe side, it's hard to blame her: Jepsen sounds best wrapped in a blanket of warm sonic miasma that plays up the complicated emotions she sings about — best exemplified here by album highlight "The Sound," a soft, twinkling synth-pop slow-burner that pleads with a disappointing partner for more than empty words.
Dedicated is immediately familiar and satisfying, but the lyricism here ensures it satisfies repeat listening, too. And while it's hard to say whether or not it bests E•MO•TION, Dedicated does something arguably more important: as her first major work since 2015, it confirms both Jepsen's consistency and longevity as a songwriter. (604 Records/Universal)