“…hold up, hold up, before we get started…”
1. I have some friends who are crazy about E*MO*TION.
2. I am not crazy about E*MO*TION.
3. I want to like this album more than I do.
4. This album is OK.
I’m not a huge fan of the whole 80’s revival thing we’ve seen over the years. Recognizing and drawing inspiration from the past is important, obviously, but most great works are INSPIRED by the works of others, and built on by talented individuals or groups, while many of these albums revolve around taking the sound of 80’s synthpop and adding modern recording techniques and styles. Essentially, the difference between “derivative” and “inspired by” is the level of ingenuity and individuality applied to the already existing art. 1989 by Taylor Swift (obvious comparison is obvious) drew on classic 80’s pop in a way that accentuated not only her new vision and direction, but also her still-masterful control of songwriting; the sound gave her new outlets to explore, and quite impressively at that, the facets of her life as a star.
Carly Rae Jepsen doesn’t do that on E*MO*TION.
Now, I’m aware of Carly’s appeal. She’s the everygirl, the girl next door; she writes songs about girl things in a way that anyone can enjoy and appreciate; she’s a genuinely nice person; she’s cute as hell. I can dig that. But calling this album some masterpiece is just ridiculous, not just because that’s not true, but because most of the people who claim that probably thought the same of “Wildflower” or “Run the Jewels 2” or “The Hope Six Demolition Project/Let England Shake”: a respectable album by a respectable artist who gets lots of coverage and acclaim for being respectable.
To her credit, her songwriting at times is impressive. (I’m thinking the title track and “Run Away With Me” here.) The production, at times, is impressive. Most of the album at least sounds nice. Hell, there are even a few songs I really love. “Run Away With Me” is great (but you already knew that), and I’ve had a soft spot for the title track since I’ve first heard it (“I am growing ten feet ten feet tall” is a wonderful little bit of melodymaking I adore hearing every time). I don’t much care for “I Really Like You” though I acknowledge its good melody and blood-pumping chorus, and even “Boy Problems” is a bit of a guilty pleasure. But while some of the songs hit for me, most of ‘em don’t. Some of that’s the production’s fault: “All That” is coated in 80’s cheese in a way that would make Anthony Gonzalez wet his pants. “Boy Problems” has a nice bassline and good percussion but not much to offer in terms of melody. “Warm Blood” is musically inert, with boring verses, nonexistent choruses, and nothing to denote either in terms of a melody or percussion. And “Favorite Colour” doesn’t offer much either, not enough for me to even discuss it. In fact, the hardest part of talking about the music here is really simple: there’s little to talk about other than “It sounds like a bunch of indie producers trying to sound like an 80’s synthpop song”. Granted, most of this is fine; other than a few snoozers, the track listing is buoyed by some good stuff (“Run Away With Me”, the title track, “I Really Like You”) and some others (the choruses of “Boy Problems” and “Let’s Get Lost”, the peppy synth lead of “Black Heart”), but I don’t want fine on my albums. I want something impressive. Pastiches of a decade we left in the past for a reason don’t impress me.
And, finally, a lot of the problem comes down to the writing. Taylor, to make the obvious comparison again, might get flack for “writing songs about boys and her relationships” and “whining about people she hates,” but lemme let you in on a not-so-secret: how you write is a thousand times more important than what you write. Example: Swift’s “Style” is a song about a bad relationship. Read this:
You come and pick me up, no headlights
A long drive,
Could end in burning flames or paradise
Fade into view, oh, it’s been a while since I have even heard from you
I should just tell you to leave ’cause I
Know exactly where it leads but I
Watch us go ’round and ’round each time
You got that James Dean daydream look in your eye
And I got that red lip classic thing that you like
And when we go crashing down, we come back every time
‘Cause we never go out of style”
Now read this excerpt from Jepsen’s “When I Needed You”, another song about a bad relationship:
“What if we could go back?
We could take the words back
You could take my love back
And brush my hair behind my ear
I don’t know what you wanted
I tried to be so perfect
I thought that it was worth it
To let myself just disappear
Sometimes I wish that I could change
But not for me, for you
So we could be together forever
But I know, I know that I won’t change for you
Cause where were you for me
When I needed someone”
Which would you say is better written and more interesting to read? And I’m aware those were just excerpts of two songs by two artists who have plenty of songs to choose from, and long excerpts at that, but face it: Taylor has a lot of depth to her emotions, tons of turmoil and anger and jealousy and lust, fueled by her need for attention and love of stardom, but shameful of her assumption that image can make a relationship work… all communicated in only 11 lines, without explicitly stating any of that. What does Carly say in that time? She misses the old flame, wants you back to keep… and that’s it. In 14. That about sums up each of their writing talents then and there, and gets back to my point on how you write vs. what you write: Taylor’s writing is vivid and in the moment, but somehow very fleeting, like she’s grasping onto her relationship for some reason she can’t figure out, or maybe doesn’t want to. Carly isn’t even close to that level, opting for a far simpler style of writing. There’s no nuance or emotional drive to it; it sounds okay in the moment, but are you gonna remember that when you take out the earbuds?
Passable, and not much else. I’ll take the title track, “Run Away With Me”, and “Boy Problems” and move along.