The below was originally published on the Tim + Alex Patreon page. As that’s now defunct and even backers can’t access the content, it seemed worth putting up here, for posterity or whatever.
I’ll be honest: I was worried about Dedicated. Jepsen’s previous album, Emotion, remains one of the greatest pop records of all time. You suspect there’s a reason she let four years pass between albums. But given how anticipation has built and bubbled over in that time, the gap might have only made it a harder act to follow.
Plus, this being a CRJ album release, there’s the traditional baffling record-label decision to reckon with. In this case, putting the first three tracks out as teasers, so that for the first ten minutes of Dedicated there are no surprises.
More honesty: the tracks in question are fine, in that way you’d say an annoying travel arrangement is fine, through gritted teeth, to the friend who booked the tickets. This is CRJ, I expected fireworks, and these first three tracks are all pretty subdued. The woozy synths that open “Julien” are delicious, there’s a new breathy texture to Jepsen’s voice… But where are the bangers?
And then you hit “Want You In My Room”, a slinky come-on of a song with that telltale Jack Antonoff production, and things start to slot into place.
The middle stretch of Dedicated is a delight. “Everything He Needs” is playful, grabbing its chorus from “He Needs Me”, a musical number in the Robin Williams Popeye movie, and turning up dials on its subtexts, both creepy and sexy. “Happy Not Knowing” surges and glitters, the album finally going for the hips, and “I’ll Be Your Girl” is the first time you feel the power of CRJ’s voice, as she belts out an ode to jealousy.
And then there’s the pure chef’s-kiss-gif of a song that is “Too Much”. Opening on the question of “Am I bad for you?/’Cause I live for the fire, and the rain, and the drama, too, boy”, it’s like Jepsen writing a Taylor Swift song. It’s also an incredibly Me anthem.
As you’ll probably have already realised, being a reader of this blog and/or a friend, I have basically two modes: 0% and 10,000%. So a chorus that features the lines “When I’m thinking, then I’m thinking too much/When I’m drinking, then I’m drinking too much”? Yeah, I might be able to relate.
I’ve seen criticisms that the underlying music isn’t as Extra as the lyrics. But the album to this point has been all quiet atmosphere. With the persistent pulsing of the beat, the airy falsetto on “takes me higher”, the way the hook suddenly explodes into existence and how Jepsen rushes out the verse so it feels like it’s folding in on itself, “Too Much” is where everything opens up.
The focus of Dedicated is myopically tight. The album’s sonic palette is less adventurous and, vitally, less maximalist than on Emotion. Every track feels like a snapshot of, potentially, the same relationship. It’s one internet theory away from being declared a concept album, looping from a break-up on its first track to another on its last.
There’s something a little creepy about the way Jepsen presents love here. Dependence, denial, jealousy. And even when she’s singing about purely positive moments of a relationship, there’s a slightly eerie intensity to it. Jepsen’s representation of love comes with an undercurrent of compulsion, frequently coupled with drink or drugs, signifiers of addiction. When she sings “we were automatically in love”, you don’t get the impression that this is entirely healthy.
“Feels Right” sticks out, sore, not just because it’s the only intrusion of another voice on the album –the perfectly fine Asa Taccone – but because it’s a duet where two people say how much they love the other one, without any friction to make it convincing. To paraphrase a considerably better track from the album: I don’t need the words, I need the sound.
“Party for One” feels like an odd inclusion, too. Not because it’s a bad song – purely as a standalone, it’s the probably the best here – but because it’s so far outside of the aesthetic Jepsen is chasing on the rest of the album. Left as the final track, it feels like a hanging afterthought, the kind of bonus you stick on a deluxe edition. But, to return to that concept album idea, it’s CRJ putting the relationship of Dedication behind her.
As I play the album on Spotify to write this, its outro crossfades into Emotion’s opening horns, and it makes a certain sense. Maybe she’s ready, now, to make that music again, to dance for herself. Back on her beat.