Nobody yearns better
God bless Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, her impact on the public imagination and five seasons of The Crown. It is always a tragedy when a queen crosses from this world to the next. But royalists of a different breed knew that her majesty’s passing in September heralded the return of a different monarch. In September 2022, Carly Rae Jepsen released The Loneliest Time’s lead single: Talking to Yourself.
“Are you thinking of me when you’re with somebody else? / Do you talk to me when you’re talking to yourself?” Jepsen sublimely dares in the chorus, made more exalted through phenomenal production work by Captain Cuts. You’re that down bad for me, and that stokes the flame. Deeper than self-satisfaction, Jepsen articulates the rose-colored sureness of knowing that who you yearn for, yearns for you, too. It is this expression of distance and the crossing of distances that define her latest album, The Loneliest Time.
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Over the past two years, we as listeners have borne witness to a great proliferation of “pandemic albums,” records that saw the most obvious cue of the zeitgeist and tried to take the theme of loneliness for a spin. That’s fine, and I think there’s always going to be a place for it, no matter how much the cases decrease. The Loneliest Time, though, comes from a singer-songwriter already well-versed in the hell of longing, and it approaches each track with a practiced grace.
Carly Rae Jepsen knows courage is tender—that’s why Surrender My Heart goes the way it goes. “Surrender my heart / (I’m out here in the open) / I wanna get closer / (I’ll believe in you every night),” dismantling walls brick by brick instead of just tearing them down, as twinkling synths surrender to seismic key strikes. The Loneliest Time articulates a specific strain of longing that EMOTION and Dedicated could not. EMOTION was passionate and borderline delirious, powered by bombast. Dedicated uncovered the little lusts that make devotion dynamic. The Loneliest Time meanwhile, strong under the weight of distance, yearns. It’s the work of a mystic, the way each record intertextually mingles with the rest of Jepsen’s discography.
That might sound like a bunch of hooey to the uninitiated, but Carly Rae Jepsen’s most devoted really like to be scholars about the singer-songwriter’s work. In my opinion, that kind of fandom behavior speaks to CRJ’s mastery of the pop genre. At its best, pop as a genre is both a party animal and a vanguard of unassailable truths. “Is it my destiny? I wanna do a bad thing twice,” Jepsen goes in Bad Thing Twice, folding the problem of free will and topak decision-making into one experience of divinity.
The Loneliest Time feels like a return to form, but most resembles the criminally underrated (despite Call Me Maybe) Kiss from 2012. The latter had the bubblegum, EDM-laced sound of its time down to a tee. The Loneliest Time takes the glossy, waxy polish of Kiss and applies it to funk and synth pop textures. Such an approach can make for some wild magic results. Bends is easy to overlook, but it’s a sonic standout—cool-toned keys pulse beneath the surface while Jepsen ruminates on the nature of solitude in sun-kissed Mexico.
“Long day, I didn’t feel so good / Lonely, am I being sensitive?” The weather vane spins and listeners are carried by the currents of Western Wind, a tribute to grief that Jepsen wrote when her grandmother passed away when the two were separated by oceans and COVID travel restrictions. “Comin’ in like a western wind / Do you feel home from all directions?” Credit is due to Rostam Batmanglij, whose writing and production chops on the track augment its best qualities. Eat your heart out, Jack Antonoff. Char.
No duds detected on this record, but a couple of tracks do underperform. Beach House is quirky cheesecake, the L.A. Hallucinations of the album—which is to say, not for everybody. The album’s title track, with a lackluster feature by Rufus Wainwright, is coquettish and sweet but uneven.
Still, the record is a blast, further solidifying the place of Carly Rae Jepsen in the modern pop pantheon. Coinciding with the release of The Loneliest Time though were slivers of incredulity from the uninformed, who go, “Oh, the Call Me Maybe girl; she’s still putting stuff out?” What a different world that is. I can’t imagine what that’s like. I’m so far from it. May the winds carry you in better directions.
Words Jam Pascual
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver