CARLY RAE JEPSEN: EMOTION: SIDE B (2016)
1) First Time; 2) Higher; 3) The One; 4) Fever; 5) Body Language; 6) Cry; 7) Store; 8) Roses.
This collection of alleged outtakes from the Emotion sessions, unlike the small bunch of tracks appended to the deluxe edition of Emotion proper, was apparently thought by Carly to merit its own release — apparently, she has a pretty high opinion of herself as one of her generation's primary pop songwriters, and now that Emotion began to gain traction even in certain intellectual circles, she wasted no time following it up with an EP (27 minutes long, which is still longer than your average Beach Boys pop album from 1963) whose purpose is (a) to demonstrate that Carly Rae Jepsen is ON A ROLL!!!, (b) to demonstrate that Carly Rae Jepsen can write DARK DISTURBING SYNTH POP like a modern day Depeche Madonna.
Indeed, there is a more pronounced retro-Eighties feel here than on Emotion itself, with lots of bare-bones bubbly funky synth rhythms and straightforward, pre-house era beats, as if somebody just wanted to get rid of all that complicated baggage and direct modern day computers to return us back to a simpler, more innocent era of crap music making. But since we have Carly Rae Jepsen behind the wheel here, don't really think of the highest possible associations — think more, like, umm... Bananarama? Nah, too gay. Anyway, all or most of these songs are: atmospherically troubled, melodically unchallenging, emotionally uninvolving, but catchy enough so as not to be a complete waste of time.
One song that I really like here, where I feel she's accidentally latched onto a bit of something special, is ʽCryʼ. Beginning deceptively, with a simple palette of cloudlike Enya-lite synthesizers, it quickly establishes a dark highway groove, and rides it all the way to the classy hook where the tension of the verse and the bridge is released upwards with a sensuous breathy falsetto. Simple, clever, and slightly Gothic in execution, we have her channelling some dream pop influences here to success — too bad that that's about it, and the song never capitalizes on its single hook idea to deepen the emotional impact. But I guess even that kind of thing is a huge achievement.
Everything else is rather basic dance-pop in the end, and, as usual, much weakened by the lack of interesting musical ideas — everything is invested in the singing, oh, and, to get you to groove as if it were 1983 all over again. (But where's the frizzed hair and the fishnet gloves?). As for the alleged emotional darkness, well, it's not really intentional: by the time we get around to the infectious chorus of "I'm just going' to the store, to the store", you can sort of guess that this is an accurate reflection of the real psychological depth of this record. But it is infectious. It should also have ended the record, instead of ʽRosesʼ, another attempt to slow things a bit, concentrate on romance and sentimentality, and end up with a song that, like ʽAll Thatʼ on Emotion, shows that Carly Rae Jepsen and non-dance-oriented ballads go together about as naturally as Elton John with nuclear physics.
Overall, a few good moments (and I'd definitely cut out ʽCryʼ as one of the nicest ideas of 2016), but if you read or heard somewhere something along the lines of how Emotion: Side B gives you a deeper, darker, more mature Carly Rae Jepsen, please take a moment to run some of your favorite deep, dark, mature artists through your brains — and avoid falling victim to the spells of the treacherous Pseudo-Progressive Evil Fairy of Pop Crap Normalization. In the end, Carly Rae Jepsen is still little more than a 3D, 1920x1080 improved version of Britney Spears, albeit with more self-respect and, perhaps, a slightly better understanding of her own limitations.