What’s a girl to do when her third album is an utter home run of a classic, but is criminally underheard? Side B may be offcuts from another record, but it's still more fun than 90% of anything else this year.
It’s a strange situation when the best pop album of 2015 was also one of the year’s most inexplicable underperforming records. E•MO•TION was the platonic ideal for pop records – a 12 track collection of hits spanning tones, moods, and an entire range of human feelings centred around the universal pains of relationship that was bubblegum 80s pop at its absolute finest. Arriving with no tabloid controversies to head off in self-conscious songs, it became the most obvious hidden gem of the year. Carly Rae Jepsen, the newly crowned pop queen who reportedly wrote around 250 songs in the process of creating it, doesn’t really care about that lack of commercial success, or at least that’s how it seemed when she announced the arrival of E•MO•TION Side B. An additional eight tracks from a vast library of offcuts collected and released purely for her fans, if it’s not quite the pop equivalent of Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered., it is at the very least an instant entry into this year’s top five pop albums to date.
Like the apparent Side A, Side B is littered with masterful percussion and great sweeping synths, so don’t go in expecting tables to be turned. But ‘Higher,’ which bursts at the seams with quality production, does prompt question of why Jepsen’s not a bigger star. With its instantly compelling drumbeat, like feeding the soul of the kid from Whiplash into a synthesiser behind the raygun repeaters of the melody, barraging your body with an immediate need to dance, and the absolutely huge chorus, it should be an instant addition to the turntables of every Popworld DJ. There’s a hole in the ground in Southampton named Jesters that should frankly be ashamed of itself for many things, and chiefly amongst them now would be not having ‘Higher’ in pride of place on its regular setlist. The same could be said of ‘Body Language,’ another in the pantheon of great pop songs about being friendzoned, which is refreshingly written and performed by a woman who’s making songs on that topic her forte. It’s so 80s that it stepped out of a time travelling DeLorean to get here, and these two aren’t even the only instant upbeat pop hits.
There are downbeat notes here in ‘Roses’ and ‘Cry’: each respectively deals with the removal of rose-tinted glasses in a concluding relationship and the distant masculinity of a partner being a barrier to a truly equal and loving relationship. The former is something of an oddball that doesn’t seem to follow an internal story logic or structure, yet every lyric is delivered with the delicate, evocative power of Jepsen’s voice. The sad longing of the song is encapsulated in the bridge (“Drunk on cigarettes / Last chance, say the words”) and the section is mirrored in the outro as the backing vocals repeat “I won’t take it back.” ‘Cry’ too is bolstered by her vocals, quickly becoming one of the standouts in a crowded sonic landscape of songstresses.
Jepsen’s hardly a provocateur, yet she’s not a safely rounded popstar. Singing “I’m still hot for you” on ‘Fever’ and “your love turns me on” on ‘Higher’ may be as close as she gets to being overtly sexual, but it’s a damn sight more self-assured than most pop in 2016 and equally endearing, not being infuriatingly arrogant, but what makes her the royalty that her fanbase so fervently proclaims her to be is her defiantly uncool sensibilities. ‘Store’ is, in a chorus which repeats “I’m just goin’ to the store / To the store,” the goofiest damn pop song in months, and Jepsen owns every second of it, shifting tones completely in the verse to a more balladic sadness that’s as jarring as it is delightful. She doesn’t need to be the queen of the mainstream because she’s so clearly happy being the coolest uncool nerd, far easier and more enjoyable to love than any of the jocks, greasers, or pink ladies. But then she was Frenchie in Grease: Live!, so we should have seen this coming.
E•MO•TION Side B is out now via School Boy and Interscope