Album Review: Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Kiss’ smacks of sweet, pop romance

No matter what she accomplishes in her career, Carly Rae Jepsen”s defining hit will always be “Call Me Maybe.”

Fans of that charming ditty, which ruled the airwaves this summer, will find plenty to like on Jepsen”s full-length, major-label debut, “Kiss,” out today. Although there is nothing here that surpasses that spiky ear worm, a few songs give the smash a run for its money on the well-crafted, if formulaic, 12-song collection.

Jepsen incorporates parts of other pop dance divas from today and yore, such are Katy Perry, Kylie Minogue, and Robyn, but she recalls no one so much as 80s” pop sparkler Debbie Gibson with her pleasing, sweet voice and limited range.

She may be 26, but Jepsen keeps all the material on “Kiss” uniformly squeaky clean enough for her pre-teen and tween audience.  Most of the lyrics address the delights and disasters between boys and girls. She”s either crushing hard, deliriously in love, jealous, breaking up or heartbroken. It”s the cotton candy version of romance that fills teen diaries and runs its course in 3-minute pop songs. High drama can ensue from a misconstrued glance or misunderstood word. There”s a naive innocence that pervades all of “Kiss” and an undying optimism that after the tears have been shed, another boyfriend -with a dimpled smile and shiny hair – will emerge.

On “This Kiss,” Jepsen can”t stop thinking about a forbidden lip lock. On “Tiny Little Bows,” she longs to “be holding hands/dancing really slow.”  About as risque as “This Kiss” gets is on “Tonight I”m Getting Over You,” when she bemoans, “we”re not lovers, but more than friends.”

The temperature of emotions switches throughout, although the tempo uniformly remains the same for virtually every track, set within strict, current Top 40 parameters of a bouncy synthetic dance beat that occasionally breaks into electro-pop.

The exceptions are the guitar-based, swoon-worthy “Beautiful,” a duet with Justin Bieber and the piano-ballad “Your Heart Is A Muscle,” which builds to a mid-tempo plea for her beau to keep working at loving her (and developing his heart muscle).

“Beautiful” continues on the trajectory of One Direction”s “What Makes You Beautiful.”   “What makes you so beautiful is you don”t know how beautiful you are to me,” Jepsen and Bieber sing together, their voices sweetly wrapping around each other. Her other notable duet partner on “Kiss” is Owl City on their current perky hit, “Good Time.”

Not that she”s necessarily expected to be a spokeswoman for her generation, but there are times when her boy dependence gets to be a bit much. On the irresistibly peppy  “Guitar String/Wedding Ring,”  her boyfriend leaves and she”s feels like she”s nobody without him. She longs for him to come back  “If you cut a piece of guitar string/I would wear it like it”s a wedding ring…When you”re near/I feel the best/I”m somebody/I”m somebody.” Oh Carly….

However, the lyrics are fairly disposal on “Kiss” unless you”re a 13-year old girl, in which case they most likely play out like every after-school conversations with your girlfriends where your current crush”s latest comment is parsed syllable by syllable for hidden meaning. The winners here are the upbeat rhythms on such songs like “Hurt So Good” or “Good Time” that embed themselves in the ears of pop fans of all ages.