Album review: Carly Rae Jepson – Emotion Side B

John Preston

Firstly, if you haven’t already made yourself utterly sick of Carly Rae Jepson’s brilliant and now one-year-old album Emotion, then you’re doing something very wrong. Since its release, a follow up the massively successful breakthrough album Kiss, Jepson has had to adjust her pop positioning somewhat.

Although Emotion has failed to sell in the quantities that would be testimony to its brilliance, the singer has become something of a cult star – a Canadian Robyn or Annie, say – and is a role she has taken to with ease and considerable charm. The biggest criticism of Emotion was that Jepson was too blank and unreadable – this is to completely miss the point of her skill and appeal.

Jepson could be me or you, if of course we had this singer’s ability to express joy and heartbreak – the basic stuff – so eloquently and emphatically. Easier than it sounds, I’d say.

Emotion Side B is a selection of eight songs left over from the 40-plus tracks that Jepson recorded and which were whittled down to the 17 that eventually became Emotion. She has already spoken about how difficult this task became and with the quality of the songs here then it’s easy to see why.

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These tracks are sonically very much of an era – somewhere between 1986 to the early 1990s – and they don’t step far outside of this period of post-disco, synthesiser-helmed dance-pop. While Emotion certainly acknowledged its earlier dance roots, it also featured productions that at least tried to sound like it was recorded in 2016. Aside from the oddity ‘Store’, any of Side B‘s tracks would sit very well within Emotion‘s final playlist but may have rendered the overall sound as potentially too retro, certainly compared to the likes of Beyonce and Taylor Swift.

Although the energetic album opener ‘First Time’ certainly has its own buoyant charm, it is also the most generic song here. The trio of songs that follows, however, are so strong and meticulously crafted that not including them on Emotion must have indeed led to heartbreak. ‘Higher’ (co-written and produced by Greg Kurstin) and stridently zipping ‘The One’ continue with the moody synth chords of Emotion‘s ‘Your Type’ but are used here as a foundation to both songs’ overtly bright and punching euphoria. ‘My breath was lost when you said “friends”‘ captures the mood – and at some point, collective shared feelings – of the slowed down, broken melancholy of ‘Fever’. Jepson perfectly captures the immediate hinterland of denial and confused feelings – is it unrequited lust or is it true love?

The album’s final third dutifully includes a plaintive and straightforward ballad in ‘Roses’ and a propulsive, Robyn-like electro weeper, appropriately titled ‘Cry’, which is a tough call for second best song here. ‘Body Language’, a co-write with Jepson’s previous collaborator Dev Hynes (Blood Orange), is celebratory and rowdy pop with an irresistible ‘I just think we’re overthinking it!’ chant. This leaves ‘Store’, a song which goes from an early Madonna-like melody and lyrical shrug to a chorus which can only be termed clunky and unexpected. It’s mindlessly catchy, child-like and will probably become something of a live favourite – such is its naive appeal and singalong nature. Its inclusion is refreshing, at least, and confirms Jepson’s dismissal of a need to be taken too seriously.

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Have fun adding these glorious songs to your extended Emotion playlist. Carly Rae Jepson may predate the music industry’s need for B-sides but she more than understands the obsessive nature of pop music and the new and uncompromising direction her own star is taking.

About John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.