Carly Rae Jepsen is pigeonholed as a one-hit-wonder. Her 2012 song ‘Call Me Maybe’ is one of the most ubiquitous hits of its era. If you haven’t been paying attention since, you may be surprised to learn that Jepsen’s become a beloved and critically acclaimed pop artist.
Jepsen was born in Mission, British Columbia, the daughter of two schoolteachers. She first gained recognition with a third placing on Canadian Idol. Since 2012’s Kiss she’s built up a lovable catalogue of disarmingly sugary pop songs. Her best work is euphoric, providing pop gratification while remaining too well-crafted to dismiss as a guilty pleasure.
This album ranking includes her “Side B” projects – with nine and twelve tracks respectively, Emotion: Side B and Dedicated: Side B qualify as albums.
Carly Rae Jepsen Albums Ranked
#8 Tug of War
CRJ’s debut is markedly different from the rest of her discography – it’s difficult to imagine any of her other albums including a John Denver cover. On Tug of War she’s peddling coffee-house folk-pop. It’s pleasant, with hints of her potential as a songwriter and her vocals providing personality. It’s a worrying sign, however, when the best track is derived from the children’s’ song ‘There’s A Hole in my Bucket’. Tug of War sold 10,000 copies, a mere fraction of the sales her next record would enjoy…..
The release of ‘Call Me Maybe’ transformed Jepsen from a struggling folk-pop artist to a household name. Following the viral hit, the biggest-selling single of 2012, Jepsen released Kiss. Despite the success of ‘Call Me Maybe’, Jepsen was still finding her identity as a recording artist. The production of Kiss is bland and her songwriting is less interesting compared to her later work. She also burdens herself, working with lesser talents on her duets with Owl City and Justin Bieber. Starting a tradition of featuring great material on the bonus tracks, the outtake ‘Drive’ is one of the most impressive songs here.
#6 Dedicated: Side B
Jepsen’s tradition of releasing her outtakes on a separate record is appreciated. Dedicated: Side B isn’t as consistent as her Emotion outtakes, but it features some stunning tracks. The gorgeously sparse ‘Heartbeat’, the Bleachers collaboration on ‘Comeback’, and the explosive ‘Solo’ are far too good to sit in the vault. The dreamy, hazy ‘Now I Don’t Hate California After All’ is one of the weirder songs in Jepsen’s catalogue.
#5 The Loveliest Time
Jepsen uses her third B-sides collection to try out different ideas – it’s her more diverse and experimental record to date. There are the usual gravity-defying, euphoric pop songs like ‘Shy Boy’ and ‘Psychedelic Switch’. There are also paths less travelled – the multi-tracked vocals of ‘Anything to Be With You’ are weirdly intense, while ‘Stadium Love’ is surprisingly successful at living up to its title.
Emotion became one of the most critically acclaimed dance-pop albums of all time; on RateYourMusic it only rates behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It was a tough act for Jepsen to follow – Dedicated is a classy pop album that doesn’t consistently reach the heights of its predecessor. The first half is strong – the smooth disco of ‘Julien’. the explosive ‘Now That I Found You’, and the sexy ‘Want You In My Room’ are all highlights. The back half drags in places, with languid tracks like ‘Right Words Wrong Time’ and ‘The Sound’.
#3 The Loneliest Time
Dedicated was a worthy follow-up to Emotion, but Jepsen sounds even better on the relaxed The Loneliest Time. Jepsen describes her 2022 album as a “playground of all the eras” – not focusing on any particular period for inspiration. Accordingly, The Loneliest Time is a playful and diverse record. The first two singles are a case in point – lead single ‘Western Wind’ is classy adult pop, while ‘Beach House’ is cheeky disco about a bad experience on a dating app. The slow-burning buildup of ‘Surrender My Heart’ makes for a terrific opener, while ‘Anxious’ is another great Jepsen song relegated to bonus track status.
#2 Emotion: Side B
Including its bonus tracks, the expanded edition of Emotion already included 17 songs. Yet Jepsen was able to compile another nine songs from the same sessions to create an impressive outtakes album. The upbeat opener ‘First Time’ was the song that hooked me on Jepsen’s music, while ‘Fever’ is an emotive ballad. Only the entertaining ‘Store’, seemingly made from stitching fragments of leftover songs together, betrays the fact that Emotion: Side B is a record of leftovers. Make sure you pick up the Side B + edition, which includes the joyous ‘Cut to the Feeling’.
Kiss was a commercial success but Jepsen wished to redefine herself with her third album. Taking creative control of the project, she discovered her sound by blending 1980s pop with alternative production. In the process, she transformed from a hitmaker to a critical darling. Emotion was commercially disappointing, only just scraping into the Billboard Top 20, but the sweeping grandeur of ‘Run Away With Me’ should have been a huge hit. The slinky ‘Boy Problems’ and the cathartic closer ‘When I Needed You’ are both powered by amazing basslines. On Emotion, Jepsen redefined herself as a critically acclaimed pop star, no mean feat.
What’s your favourite Carly Rae Jepsen album?
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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