One of the most positive ways the internet has changed how people listen to music is that is has removed the novelty of genre agnosticism. Gone are the days when rock kids refuse to listen to Top 40 because of an undying grudge against the popular kids who picked them last for kickball, and poptimism seems to be at an all-time high nowadays, though rock-minded people are still fickle and hard to please. This pickiness is why many conversations about Canadian pop queen Carly Rae Jepsen’s third album Emotion felt like fights to convince people that the one-hit wonder was actually a remarkably talented artist worthy of our time. Once people started opening up, and allowed “Run Away With Me,” “Boy Problems,” and “When I Needed You” into their hearts, they were able to let go of those Pop vs. Rock grudges – though it didn’t hurt that indie darlings Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) and Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend) helped produce that album, either.

The upside of Emotion’s dominance in the intervening four years is that Dedicated, her fourth album, was hotly anticipated in a way that the Emotion run-off collection Emotion Side B couldn’t sate. Whether it will actually feel worth the wait to listeners is hard to gauge: Jepsen nailed down an indie-adjacent pop blend remarkably well, but in the process of creating Dedicated, she seems to have misunderstood what those rock kids latched onto in the first place, instead swinging farther to the other end of the spectrum. Jepsen reportedly wrote a staggering 100+ songs for it (with the overall theme of “Songs to Clean Your House To”), but the ones that made the final cut often lack the spark of hyperactive exuberance that its predecessor had.

This isn’t to say it’s not good – it’s quite good, actually. Jepsen is second-to-none as a purveyor of bright, shimmery pop music made by someone who wants to make music about feeling absolutely everything, for people who feel absolutely everything – she even gives us a song about it, album standout “Too Much: “When I party, then I party too much/ When I feel it, then I feel it too much/ When I’m thinking, then I’m thinking too much/ When I’m drinking, then I’m drinking too much.” She doesn’t waste time cutting to the feelings, either: “I’ve been so torn up, I’ve been so out of it/ I’m forever haunted by our time,” she sings on the lovelorn opener “Julien,” which trades the infectious sax wail that announced Emotion opener “Run Away With Me” for butter-slick disco beats. Elsewhere, she’s playful: the Jack Antonoff-produced “Want You In My Room” is an uproariously fun song about the intersection between “I want to give you my heart” and, in Jepsen’s words, “On the bed, on the floor, I don’t care anymore/ I wanna do bad things to you.” She even turns the “Will they or won’t they?” trope on its ear with “Happy Not Knowing,” where both parties (and your friends) know there’s something between you and another person, but knowing that having it said aloud could lead to her emotional destruction: “And please don’t stir it up/ I’m sure it’s nothing but some heartburn, baby/ And I’m happy not knowing.”

These songs all sound great, too, but they sound both safe and generic – “No Drug Like Me” is an addicting and beautiful slow-builder which adds gentle layers of gliding synths to Jepsen’s washed-out vocals, but if you were to replace her voice with anyone else, nobody would bat an eye. “Everything He Needs,” despite jocking Harry Nilsson, comes off as too saccharine to feel impactful, while the fantastically spiteful “I’ll Be Your Girl” (the closest she’ll ever get to the spirit of “You Oughta Know”) sounds unfinished, and even worse, includes ska-flavored trumpets. She also allowed two entirely forgettable songs back-to-back, the Mariah Carey-influenced “Automatically in Love” and the Electric Guest-featuring “Feels Right,” the latter of which is the closest thing Jepsen has come to giving us a dud in years. Having written as many songs as she did for this album, you almost begin to yearn for the songs that didn’t make the cut – surely at least one of them could have been better than “Feels Right,” right?

The album ends on a high note, with “Party For One.” It takes the popular path of “Self-Love Anthem” that Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You made into a persona and wisely turns that self-love into an act of defiance: “I’ll be the one/ If you don’t care about me/ Making love to myself/ Back on my beat” – in her hands, loving (and making love to) herself is not just a way to live, but a pointed act to fill the space left behind. It’s arguably the album’s best song, made even better by the fact that it has the spirit the songs before it seemed to lack – the rest don’t feel innovative, adventurous, or even a very far walk away from what we already knew Jepsen was capable of. Like this year’s similarly good-but-not-amazing Empress Of album Us, Dedicated plays it safe sonically and loses sight of the adventurous spirit of its predecessor. Jepsen has shown enough raw talent that this very minor misstep shouldn’t be a deterrent for people when her next album comes out, which only needs a minor course correction to nail; she sums this effort up perfectly on “Want You In My Room”: “I’m like a lighthouse/ I’m a reminder of where you going.”

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