Album Review: Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loveliest Time

[604/Interscope/Schoolboy; 2023]

At this point, it would be considerably impudent to reiterate the fact that singer-songwriter Carly Rae Jepsen is a cult-like figure of pop music; living proof that the commerciality of pop music is rudimentary when compared to the importance of simply delivering great pop music. The loyal fanbase that she has accrued since her renaissance as the understated pop diva who ironically tends to deal with maximalism, understands that. Rest assured, it is not surprising that Carly continues her winning streak with another panorama of heartfelt pop music titled The Loveliest Time.

For Jepsen, her prolific artistry has bolstered her reputation; those who listen to her long-awaited new albums are like restaurant patrons who are enjoying the main course while cheekily eyeing the dessert menu. Since her elevation to critical acclaim and artistic reinvention with 2016’s Emotion, with each album she has given her fans the beloved gift of a Side B – another set of tracks that are equally, and sometimes exceeding of, the quality of the Side A, and The Loveliest Time is the latest of these, following on the heels of last year’s The Loneliest Time. There is no ambivalence on Jepsen’s part when it comes to these sequels as she treats them as their own project; coexistent companions with their own personality rather than a casual extension and such is achieved on this project.

The Loveliest Time‘s opening track “Anything To Be With You” sets the scene for the album’s unfettered romantic notions. Featuring rhythmic horns, bouncy guitar lines and hand claps, the song is an exercise in casual funkiness where Jepsen lays it all on the table for the sake of commitment including being “friends with [their] friends” and making love in their town or her town. Perhaps the most adoring lyric in her manifesto is when she admits “When it comes to me boy, falling for you is never over” This is followed by “Kamikaze”, a darkly-tinged synthpop track which melodramatically uses the metaphor of crashing into an ex-lover (well… you know what she means) to recapture a feeling doomed to expire; “I know it sounds fatal / I know we made fires / The ending’s real clear and it won’t take us higher”. It is very indicative of the Jepsen Romantic Philosophy: love comes, love hurts, love goes, love returns, but you must throw yourself into it wholeheartedly regardless.

The Loveliest Time’s highlights are when Jepsen pivots into more experimental and unexpected sonic territory. The trance-like fervour of “Psychedelic Switch”, for example, is an intentionally frenetic homage to 90s dance music. Over fast-paced drums and reverberated synth chords that lead to the apex of an explosive chorus, Jepsen sings about the transformative experience of love and her confidence from it; “You feel just like home / I’m not scared to show ya!” The euphoric, bubbly R&B of “After Last Night” is another exciting direction where Jepsen sounds like a galactic princess. The production frequently switches between minimalistic and explosive, emphasising the drama in allowing yourself to feel; “Yeah I see you / And I think it’s gonna change my life / Not afraid of getting close this time”.

Jepsen utilises the more sultry and lower aspects of her voice on the wonderfully stirring yet melancholic “Kollage” where she contemplates self-sabotage. Initially sounding like a throwback erotic slow-jam, lyrically Jepsen does a left-turn and sings about “Living with uncertainty like nothing really matters.” The chorus strips back to a more alternative sound of acoustic guitar and piano as she asks “Did I do it to myself? / Hard to know for sure / Did I hurt somebody else?” It’s effecting, earnest and vulnerable, providing a linkage to its sister project The Loneliest Time by allowing these feelings to seep through.

There are further correlations between this project and its sister (or, at the very least, close cousin) project The Loneliest Time. Like the former album’s lead single “Western Wind”, the lead single for this project “Shy Boy” is slinky and comparatively lowkey compared to its other tracks. Jepsen lets herself go on the funky production, giving the track a sense of campy fun as she sings in falsetto: “Shy boy stir me up / I get a little something from your morning cup”, which is doomed to sear itself into the chamber of the brain that repeats satisfying phrases. With an interpolation of disco classic “Midas Touch” by Midnight Star, Jepsen celebrates the introverted love interest as the pinnacle of satisfaction (“He’s got the Midas touch / Everything he touch turns to gold / Or sugar”). While this track does not scream lead single, it is merely a testament to Jepsen’s craft that she does not feel the urge to lambast the charts by attempting another “Call Me Maybe” or “Run Away With Me”.

Similarly, both albums allow their finale track to be the most plaintive and bittersweet. On an album that remains generally elevated, riding the updrafts of romance, it feels oddly relieving to have our feet back on the ground for Weekend Love”. (Side-note: Admittedly, this is a bonus track but during the listening experience, it feels like such an appropriate and wistful closer that this reviewer considers it the true ending, if you will, of the album). On the dreamy track, Carly spins a soft tale of brief passionate romance – perhaps even a hookup where it was deeper for the other person – and the accompanying process of moving on. What is striking about this track beyond its maturity is its realism; “Got me so high but everybody comes down”. Jepsen lists things vaguely: “Life goes on / New York, new arrangements / No more sleeping on your shoulder”, as if the pain of losing this lover is now only coming in glimpses as time passes rather than pervading her entire mind.

The album’s apex, however, proves its most melancholic and cinematic – albeit still retaining a subdued peppiness that prevents it from being a complete outlier. A tapestry of electronic blips, watery piano, dynamic drumming and plaintive orchestration, “Put It To Rest” is a mesmerising slice of vulnerability. On the track, Jepsen finds herself unable to find solace in romance and looks to the future where she can figure things out by herself; “I’ve been hard to find / I’ve been close but out of reach”. It perfectly connects the words of “loneliest” and “loveliest” as it explores how romance can be a comfort but cannot resolve our internal baggage as she tells herself; “The ones I loved and left behind / Put it to rest so the rest won’t follow me.” This cinematic, alternative sound is different for Jepsen reiterating how her willingness to experiment means that there are always surprises to behold in her albums.

The Loveliest Time should not be taken at face value upon its title. If anything, Jepsen lets her escapist pop façade crumble slightly to reveal some unexpected truths and hurts that earnestly put her in a different light. There is plenty of fun and escapism of the sort that gave Jepsen her well-earned reputation in the popsphere, but in terms of her progression as an artist, its most striking tracks prove to be the ones that are more self-focused. When she is not absolutely elated and high on the rush of romance, she is not afraid to contemplate what’s going on with herself: there is loveliness in her loneliest time and loneliness in her loveliest time – they are not mutually exclusive but rather gloriously connected.