Carly Rae Jepsen is not a one-hit wonder; "Good Time," her happy-go-lucky duet with Owl City, has already washed that fear away, and new single "This Kiss" has a great chance of finding the same success. But is Carly Rae Jepsen an album artist? "Call Me Maybe" invaded and overtook pop radio this summer because the song is an astonishingly catchy piece of sonic cotton candy, but prolonging that phenomenon over a 42-minute span is much trickier. "Kiss," Jepsen's second album and first since becoming a superstar, is the sound of an artist relentlessly trying to prove her staying power and transform the "magic in a bottle" into a delectable cocktail. The result is an album that comes on a bit strong, but has the pop pedigree to avoid any major missteps.
Every song is designed like the sugary, bite-sized candy that "Call Me Maybe" so clearly was, and the one that's not, "Beautiful," is the tender Justin Bieber co-sign their fans have been waiting for. The first half of the album is a devastatingly good array of "Call Me Maybe" follow-ups and "Call Me Maybe" itself; "This Kiss," Jepsen's newest single, particularly explodes upon repeated impact. The second half sags simply due to fatigue -- how many sumptuous bubblegum tracks about budding romance can one handle? But "Turn Me Up" shimmies into the winner's circle, and "Your Heart is a Muscle" switches up Jepsen's style before the final buzzer.
Interestingly, the album contains barely a hint of sexuality or provocative subject matter -- on "Kiss," the 26-year-old Jepsen treats love like a simple game of nondescript hook-ups and bummer break-ups. There's nothing wrong with heralding innocence, especially for a rising artist trying to gain younger fans, but it will be interesting to see how (and when) Jepsen's songwriting matures post-"Kiss." One thing's for certain, though: this full-length is not the last we've heard from the voice behind the biggest hit of summer 2012.
What are the standout tracks on "Kiss"? Check out our track-by-track breakdown of Carly Rae Jepsen's new album.
1. Tiny Little Bows - An interpolation of Sam Cooke's "Cupid" kicks off Carly Rae's whirlwind tour of sticky-sweet affection, featuring hints of those "Call Me Maybe" strings. "I wish we could be holding hands," Jepsen sighs over the shiny production.
2. This Kiss
The album's "first" official single -- not counting its two existing Top 10 hits -- is as undeniable as the lips of the lyrical object of affection who (gasp!) isn't the boy she has back home. Credit goes to LMFAO's RedFoo, who strayed from his bro-tastic party rock anthems and co-produced this nugget of adorableness.
3. Call Me Maybe
This sounds like it might be a hit! Oh, who are we kidding: we've all liked, then loved, then trumpeted, then got tired of, then circled around and got back to loving "Call Me Maybe" over the past few months. Here, it's posited as the power hitter protecting new single "This Kiss" in the track list's lineup.
4. Curiosity - A slinky electronic verse arrangement that's vaguely reminiscent of La Roux's "Bulletproof" blooms into a sun-stroked hook that climbs up in the final minute. Another bubblegum crowd-pleaser, but with less punch than the first three tracks.
5. Good Time feat. Owl City
Carly Rae's other smash single, this time featuring Owl City and multiple declarations from the twentysomething singers about enjoying each other's company. Unabashedly earnest, and those 'Whoa-oh-oh's' have Top 40 radio wrapped up in its web.
6. More Than a Memory - More missed opportunities from Carly Rae and her beau, as the singer recalls "That night I almost said I loved you/You almost said it back." Not as propulsive as its predecessors on the album, which is a good thing; the slippery percussion and fluttering guitar strums do not overshadow Jepsen's yearning poses.
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7. Turn Me Up - A delicious earworm that finally allows Jepsen to cling onto some vocal subtlety. The singer sounds genuinely affected enough to make lines like "You kiss me on the phone/And I don't think it reaches" work, and the warm glow of the production slides effortlessly into the synth extravaganza of the finale. Pop fans hungry for a more high-octane "Call Me Maybe" should check this one out.
8. Hurt So Good - Sadly not a re-imagining of a John Mellencamp, "Hurt So Good" whizzes and hums with aplomb, and Carly Rae commands the dance track with standard romantic tropes. Yet it's at this point that the uptempo, innocently constructed love stories seem too often to blend together.
9. Beautiful feat. Justin Bieber - The much-ballyhooed meeting between Carly Rae and the pop superstar who gave her the Twitter Shout-Out That Changed Everything, "Beautiful" at last gives the singer some space to breathe outside of the electro-pop universe of the album. The Biebs arrives in style for an acoustic love duet that's sweet but ordinary.
10. Tonight I'm Getting Over You - "I wanna touch your heart… I wanna crush it in my hands," a surprisingly vulnerable Carly Rae sings to tip off the listener that, yes, "Tonight I'm Getting Over You" is indeed a fist-pumping post-breakup anthem. The techno merry-go-round soon kicks in, the pop star rises from the ashes of broken promises, and somewhere, Katy Perry wonders why she didn't get her hands on this jam.
11. Guitar String/Wedding Ring - Another rave-up that tries to duplicate the formula of "Call Me Maybe," but the hook arrives half-evolved. Fortunately, the bridge -- featuring just Jepsen's voice and a distant synth bounce -- hits a karaoke diva sweet-spot, if only for a few seconds.
12. Your Heart Is A Muscle - Hushed emotion, an interesting lyrical approach and arena-ready drums make for a standout track buried too deep on the album. "Your Heart Is A Muscle" doesn't try to hit the listener over the head with its sugary center, instead synthesizing Carly Rae's most appealing qualities into a calm love letter.