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Album name: Kiss
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Rating: -- 4.5 out of 5
Review written by: Alan Ho
Unless you have been literally living on some remote island AND also in some cave on said remote island, you know who Carly Rae Jepsen is and THAT song. And while THAT song created an explosive pop culture buzz, turned her into a pop star with legions of fans and detractors, it simply served as a pretty protracted placeholder for one of the year's most anticipated pop albums.
Her second career album (and major label full length debut, as far as the U.S. market is concerned), titled Kiss could might as well prove to her large group of detractors that in fact, Jepsen is not some one trick pony or the dreaded "one-hit" wonder. Kiss in fact from a production standpoint shows off predominately the decade in which she was born in (she was born in 1982) when pop music became reborn with then young artists like Madonna, Tiffany and yes, dare we say, Cyndi Lauper. This template is mixed in with the styling that turned Kylie Minogue into an international superstar in the early to mid-90s. This means Kiss is replete with idealistic, sweet and breezy pop lyrics (which are still going strong in this century, just delivered in another method), snappy synth hooks and vocals filtered by electronic effects.
The ride back to her birth decade tops off and begins off with the clever and wink-tastic "Tiny Little Bows," which makes use of a subtle electronic-filtered riff from a Sam Cooke classic. Youthful love and optimism oozes out of "Bows" from start to finish, not unlike anything out of the catalogues from early Madonna and in the prime Tiffany. "This Kiss" is actually the first official single from the album and it shows in its inherent pop radio-friendliness. Like the previous track, "Kiss" is another ride through the best of pop music in the 1980s.
Again, unless you have been living under a rock, you know what "Call Me Maybe" is all about. It is odd that after nearly a year somewhere on the charts, it finally makes it on a full-length album. Next track "Curiosity" is a pretty well done and executed remix of the original title track from an EP released earlier this year. The track dials down the 80s-era bass-heavy synth beat just a notch or two and adds a bit of Kylie-type vibe, may remind listeners a tiny hair bit of Kylie's comeback hit from the early 2000s "Can't Get You Out of My Head."
"Good Time" is a very odd choice considering it is not even hers as it was the first official single from Owl City's recently released The Midsummer Station. However, it is a seemingly well-placed oasis from Jepsen's predilection to the pop music from the 1980s; Owl City pulls the singer-songwriter back into the 21st century with the anthemic pop choral ending and its modern Top 40 fingerprints all over it.
"Turn Me Up" seems to be more of a direct and knockout version of "Call Me Maybe," with the same general theme but adding the element of a breakup. It is an interesting juxtaposition where subtle bite from lyrics like "I'm breaking up with you/You're breaking up with me/You kiss me on the phone/And I don't think it reaches" meets the oddly warm and sunny synth beats.
"Hurt So Good" by this point in the album starts to feel more like filler; a standard dance-pop track that moves a whole lot slower than its sub-3:10 length suggests.
It is next track "Beautiful" that finally strips away the electro-pop references, influences, and returns Carly Rae Jepsen to her singer-songwriter roots. “Beautiful” is also the long-awaited collaboration between herself and Justin Bieber, long regarded as the catalyst for her rise to stardom. The only problem with "Beautiful" is that Bieber does exactly what happened to him on "Believe," upstage the actual act. There are moments in "Beautiful" where it seems like he wants people to know his voice has changed and in turn could make new listeners think Jepsen is at least a decade younger than she actually is (she turns 27 in November). "Beautiful" is still a solid track but the execution could have been a bit better as far as vocals go. Nevertheless, the track does show that Jepsen has an excellent vocal behind all that electronic filtering.
"Tonight I'm Getting Over You" brings Jepsen into the 21st century with the heavy Eurotrance bass beat and soaring refrain right out of the playbooks of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry (maybe more like Katy considering the similar trajectories into pop superstardom). The lyrics suggest her going through feelings of post-breakup...essentially think of Taylor Swift meets Katy Perry meets Gaga.
"Guitar String/Wedding Ring" once again tries to reach the same status as "Call Me Maybe," which is obvious at the beginning and uses the strange metaphor of a guitar string as a wedding ring to symbolize perhaps faithfulness. It is honestly a strange song and for some reason it could have been more, but instead feels like a failed attempt to make a point.
Final track "Your Heart Is a Muscle" has a multi-faceted approach and showcases everything that Carly Rae Jepsen is. The piano-fueled beginning leads to her stripped down vocals, which without the electronic filters shows off a refreshing kind of emotional vulnerability. The refrain is also refreshing where her vocals are allowed to shine and the arrangement does not beat the listener to death while still allowing her vulnerability to show through.
In the end, Kiss may well represent a refreshing change to the current state of pop music right now, this instant. Jepsen makes a concerted and for the most part, a successful attempt at bringing back the, no pun intended, a good time. It makes no pretension whatsoever of what her music is all about, a ride through good, old-fashioned feel good, feel happy pop with a heavy helping of youthful and simplistic optimism. Outside of a couple odd choices to fill in the album, a few questionable moments and a couple seeming duds, no matter what her naysayers have said now and in the past, Carly Rae Jepsen is here to stay.