The Best Albums of 2015, #9

band019. Carly Rae Jepsen, E•MO•TION (604)

Imagine the pressure of following up one of the biggest pop singles of the past 15 years. You are under crippling demand to catch lightning in a bottle a second time, and so many times artists have buckled under all that weight. Carly Rae Jepsen, however, approached the challenge of successfully following up the massive “Call Me Maybe” with so much more strength that her tiny frame would imply. With a bevy of collaborators she co-wrote 200 songs for her third album, and went on to record all over the world with a who’s who of upper tier producers. She put in a monumental effort to release a perfect pop album, and E•MO•TION comes as close as any pop album I’ve heard since Kylie’s Fever in 2001. In fact, it’s defiant in its approach. Were this a hyped album by an American pop artists, it would be carefully groomed and garish as if introducing the world to royalty. See Taylor Swift and Beyoncé: they don’t want a great pop album, they want an iconic album. While that ambition is admirable, and typically American, the Canadian Jepsen is more along the lines of international artists like Sia, Robyn, Kimbra, and La Roux, more concerned with sticking to her own strengths and sticking out among the crowd that way. On E•MO•TION, the first thing you notice is just how much it evokes pop music of the mid-to-late-1980s, from Janet Jackson, to Cyndi Lauper, to the more effervescent side of Madonna. For all of Taylor Swift’s “1989” bluster, Jepsen bests her as far as capturing that sound goes. 1989 is a millennial’s wild guess at how 1989 sounded, but E•MO•TION is the work of a contemporary pop artist who actually knows and remembers 1989. A huge, huge difference. The variety on this record is wonderful: “Let’s Get Lost”, “Make the Most of the Night”, “Run Away With Me”, and “All That” all stand apart as explorations of different sides of ’80s pop, but it all holds together. And that leads to the biggest reason why this record is so astounding: that voice. No pop singer today conveys emotion as well as Carly Rae Jepsen. Yes, including Adele. No, she doesn’t need an immaculate singing voice. If anything, her voice always feels fragile, far from the strongest you’ve ever heard. But under all that delicacy is strength, not to mention great discipline, which in turn gives her ample room to display emotional range. You can hear her smile when she sings “I Really like You”. Your heart aches when she so subtly makes her voice crack on the gorgeous “Your Type”. She sounds seductive on “Warm Blood”. And when she sings “Run away with me,” you’re all but ready to drop everything and follow her wherever she goes. It’s such a shame that the album has under-performed, but critics have embraced it wholeheartedly, with a great deal of the indie crowd following suit. While it’s a cult hit in 2015, given time its stature could grow, and maybe someday E•MO•TION will be recognized as the classic pop album it is. (Spotify) (YouTube)