Stop it. You’re making that smug face you always make when someone tries to evangelize a horrible pop record. Yes, you, with the subscription to Spin magazine. If you end up listening to the new Carly Rae Jepsen album on Spotify, do not turn on the private session setting. Don’t.
Minding the pleas of 21st century philosopher Max Bemis, I will not try to convince anyone that the “Call Me Maybe” wunderkind’s second full-length album is a post-modern masterpiece. It is not. It sounds like tabby cats playing in puddles of buttercream frosting. In the broad spectrum of human experience, Radiohead may tweak your self-loathing, Frank Sinatra may stoke your romanticism, and the Stones may propel your hedonism. In one’s seasons of perkiness, though, “Brown Sugar” won’t cut it. From Connie Francis to Olivia Newton-John to “Lucky Star”-era Madonna, there have always been pop trifles. And just like there is good rock and bad rock, or good rap and bad rap, there is good bubblegum and bad bubblegum. Kiss is the former.
With Zooey Deschanel’s bangs and Katy Perry’s hot pants, Canada’s Jepsen burst onto the pop scene this summer with the force of herd of caribou, defying the radio-owning public to attempt resistance. “Call Me Maybe” is the best thing to happen to violins since Meryl Streep in Music of the Heart. It needs no champion. Much like the concept of time itself, it simply is, and always has been, and always will be.
Kiss, barring any fits of Mozart-level genius, could never be an album full of “Call Me Maybes.” However, it can be, and largely is, aggressively fun.
Up first at bat, “Tiny Little Bows” needs to be a single if Interscope Records enjoys having money. A disco-flavored treat, The Jep’s alluringly sweet vocal performance melts into the deviously contagious melody. Though the funk guitar is a little silly if considered too closely, the song’s sampling of Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” redeems it (and also wins it the “Thing Sam Cooke Could Never Have Predicted Would Be Done With His Music” award). It’s a sublime primer in The Carly Rae Method of Pop Science: When in doubt, go neon.
“This Kiss,” with synths conjured through a seance with a 1980’s-era shopping mall, is perhaps the finest piece of electropop on Kiss; with slightly less sanitized production and a little more insanity, it would make a fine Robyn song. “Curiosity,” meanwhile, is a fine example of sugary EDM that would be right at home in the early 2000s. The vocals seem a little too thin for the bombast the song is driving toward, but it mostly suffers from being weaker than the first few tracks.
After a rollicking first third, Kiss spends ample energy on filler. “Good Time” bears no Jepsenological examination; it’s an Owl City song, really. Everyone’s mileage on that will vary. “Turn Me Up” and “Hurt So Good” have the skeletons of exciting songs, though the final cuts fall into Mickey Mouse Club territory.
CRJ can’t sell anger and bitterness quite so well as earnest flirtation, and “Tonight I’m Getting Over You” exposes her “breathy girl next door” autopilot. The song wants to be a Gossip club banger, and it has a Black Eyed Peas-variety techno loop in the chorus and bridge — ACCELERATION PULSE BEAT THE SOUND OF A TAPE MEASURE RETRACTING. If anything, this one will soundtrack laser tag arenas for decades to come.
The breathy girl next door comes home to roost in the mellow balladeering of “Beautiful,” home to Kiss’ obligatory Bieber feature. The Purple Hoodie’d Prince is directly responsible for Jepsen’s fame, which is like selling your soul to some other-dimensional, Lovecraftian presence. The old ones demand repayment for their eldritch bargains, after all. Instead of a blood offering, Carly Rae turns out an admirable Colbie Callait riff, but one that sounds less like a nail salon that “Bubbly” and its ilk. No slight meant to Bieber, but “Beautiful” would be more attractive as a Jepsen solo.
Kiss finishes strong, with the nonsensical “Guitar String/Wedding Ring” appearing as a ray of hope. Jepsen proves herself as this generation’s Robin Sparkles with this one. She sings “you know what I mean,” but no, I don’t think anyone truly does, Jeps. The lyrics are rife with weird metaphors about birds and water and fish and musical instrument parts and matrimonial imagery. Worst of all, before you know it, you’re trying to apply literary analysis to a Carly Rae Jepsen song. It’s best to take this one in on an emotional level, because it’s big, dumb and danceable. With a killer syncopated bridge, “Wrong Feels So Right” may not be a complex exigesis on carnal temptations and the frustrations of an imperfect humanity like the title suggests, but it’s got a beat and you can dance to it. And “Sweetie,” well, that one is just cute.
Kiss is not the best album out right now, not by a glittery country mile. But, existing in its own milieu, it offers smiles, hooks and cultural significance. In the future, when our children are eating Soylent Green and living on Battlestar Galactica, they’ll also be wearing Carly Rae Jepsen costumes to their 2010s-themed Spaceoween parties. And, you can be sure, “Call Me Maybe” will be on those party playlists. For this moment, the shiny, sunny pop of Kiss taps into the perky Jepsen gene within all of us.
(1) “Tiny Little Bows”
(2) “This Kiss”
(3) “Call Me Maybe”
(11) “Guitar String/Wedding Ring”