Longing for meaningful connection is all over Canadian pop chanteuse Carly Rae Jepsen’s new album The Loneliest Time, which is about as direct a title as you could get. The last few years have been tumultuous for Jepsen in the aftermath of a breakup, the death of her grandmother and the inability to visit family in Canada during the pandemic. In a post announcing the album, Jepsen mentioned her fascination with loneliness, describing it as “really beautiful when you turn it over and look at it.”
This isn’t exactly novel to her discography. While her last album, 2019’s Dedicated, was a serenade to romantic highs, brief moments of sobering honesty hinted at deeper anxieties. Its closing track “Real Love” displayed an intense desire for the title’s namesake: “All I want is real, real love / And I’ve been feeling weak without it.” But The Loneliest Time is unique in how it reflects both feelings of loneliness and the fallout from these feelings. Although it doesn’t consistently reach the same euphoric states as past projects, The Loneliest Time displays more mature songwriting and adventurous forays into new musical directions, while still being coated with the glittery sheen of pop that Jepsen does so well.
The Loneliest Time opens with “Surrender My Heart,” which approaches neither the playful maximalism of “Run Away With Me” nor the sleek yearning of “Julien.” Instead, “Surrender My Heart” begets an air of melancholia — droning synth melodies and fluttering arpeggios make way for Jepsen’s vocals, as she sings, “So I’ve been trying hard to open up / When I lost someone, it hit me rough.” There’s a subtle unsteadiness to her voice throughout, as if to indicate her struggles in unraveling her emotions. “Surrender My Heart” is an incredible opener because even as it progresses into Jepsen’s usual anthemic flourishes, with larger-than-life choruses and driving bass lines, it taps into distinct relationship anxieties, characterizing the layer of uncertainty underscoring every interaction. The song offers insight into the album’s direction: it’s not just about the loneliness, but how its effects are etched into us, unearthing our insecurities.
Jepsen’s music has always been intensely personal, but The Loneliest Time shows a stark change in perspective, far from past songs about intense crushes and carefree relationships. The subject matter sees Jepsen at her most despondent, but she often masks it with humor. It’s not just “Beach House” — many of the songs are infused with layers of sarcasm, almost making you forget that the album is centered around loneliness. “Sideways,” for example, sounds lighthearted and breezy, driven by funky guitar chords and steady percussion. Similarly, the lyrics tell the story of an exciting new relationship, but the chorus feels ironic, with Jepsen singing “I get all my confidence from you.” It’s casual enough to listen to on a summer day, but lyrically it feels much more bleak, as it describes rushing into unfulfilling relationships to evade loneliness. The melding of its lively, danceable atmospheres with weighty lyrics yields a brilliant emotional balance, as whimsical as it is sincere, and continues to prove why Jepsen is one of contemporary pop music’s best songwriters.
That said, there are still heartfelt, emotionally striking statements across the album. “Bends” represents the gut-wrenching moments after losing a loved one and the struggle to come to terms with it (“Tell me this isn’t happenin’”). The song is one of the most, if not the most personal she’s ever released, and is a brilliant example of the increased vulnerability of her songwriting on The Loneliest Time. It’s also one of the most “out-there” instrumentals she’s ever sung over — produced by Bullion, floating synth swells and stammering chords akin to a malfunctioning printer create a vivid, perturbing world that blurs the line between fear and acceptance.
While the rest of The Loneliest Time is not as rebellious in sound, Jepsen still manages to sneak in colorful new sonic palettes. Some songs feel distinctly earthy, forgoing her characteristic synthesized productions for more acoustic instrumentation. This was hinted at with the lead single “Western Wind,” and while it doesn’t occupy much of a presence alongside the punchy dance-pop tracks, songs like “Go Find Yourself or Whatever” are exciting in their embrace of folksier and rockier styles. It feels like an updated version of her debut album Tug of War, and even if the song doesn’t hold a candle to the rest of the album, it highlights the potential for something greater.
The Loneliest Time is a drastic conceptual shift from Jepsen’s previous works, which may be difficult for past fans. For every one of its loud, lustrous pop songs, there’s an equal number of moments that revel in their understatement. But this isn’t a bad thing — Jepsen makes use of the tender moments to display sincere reflections on her experiences with loneliness, something that feels deeply relatable given the last few years. There are unpleasant moments occasionally — the grating group vocals on “So Nice,” for one — but these are fleeting. Introspective in heart, yet radiant in expression, The Loneliest Time shows why Carly Rae Jepsen remains one of the most masterful contemporary pop artists.
Daily Arts Contributor Thejas Varma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.