Carly Rae Jepsen has been exploring the concept of loneliness. She started with the heartbreak-inspired Dedication, and with her new album, The Loneliest Time, she dives into more existential loneliness inspired partly by the pandemic and partly by the emptiness of modern dating. But suppose the title has you worried that she’s gone full Morrissey. In that case, you should know the songs are also full of meditations on romanticism, a concept that has defined Jepsen’s sound since “Call Me Maybe” rocketed her into the pop music stratosphere.
The 13 tracks on this album were culled down from over a hundred songs, many resulting from Zoom writing sessions during the pandemic. But this go-around, Jepsen wasn’t writing towards some overarching concept. Instead, she followed a mantra to do what felt good. So the title and its hints of loneliness are a reference to all she had to endure during the pandemic — the death of two family members, including her grandmother, and the general sense of isolation and solitariness that everyone experienced — come out more as a mood board around an idea than, say, the depths of despair. Instead, Jepsen comes as close as she’ll get to a sense of mourning with “Joshua Tree,” “Far Away,” and “Bends,” which sound like remembrances of people and places that are rendered not unpleasant and a little nostalgic thanks to the ’80s-inspired soundscapes she incorporates into most of the album. The latter song, in particular, uses minor chords and the minor third (aka the saddest musical interval) to evoke a heavy feeling. But the song ends on an optimistic, if minor, note with the chords stepping up all the time into Jepsen’s elegiac refrain, “I can see the sun on you.”
California and its sunshine play no minor role in The Loneliest Time, certainly partly due to Los Angeles being the city Jepsen found herself in for much of the pandemic. It makes numerous appearances, including “Western Wind.” The song is the album’s sole collaboration with Rostam Batmanglij, a former founding member of Vampire Weekend, who Jepsen has co-written with numerous times. There’s a space to the song and more of a human feel than many others. It gets at that lonely feeling too, thanks largely to Batmanglij’s indie-influenced musical proclivities.
So much is alienating, but it’s easy to find yourself on woman-identifying TikTok listening to complaints about dating apps. Synths and drum-programmed tracks with a disco influence belie Jepsen’s intent: to create an album we can dance to when it’s hard not to feel alone together. They aren’t that different from “Beach House,” but the latter has a more infectious beat. This cheeky song roasts the surrealism of finding a datable person on these apps (and the lyric “I’ve got a lake house in Canada and / I’m probably gonna harvest your organs” is sure to become a meme). “Shooting Star” tapes into the equally viral nature of horoscope culture, integrating Jepsen’s bold embrace of life as a Scorpio (IYKYK) and electro laser synths that also pop up in the equally danceable “So Nice.” And if you don’t get 1984 MTV vibes from the album’s lead track, “Surrender My Heart,” then you’ve got to break your new wave records out for a refresher.
So, where is the loneliness on this album? In most songs, the music puts it in the rearview. It opens with a definitive statement: “I want to be open, I want to be honest with you.” And it closes with the title track, a lament on giving a relationship another try that’s old-school enough to invoke a smoking habit. It’s also the most disco-adjacent bop on the album, with string parts and synths evocative of the most cinematic Bee Gees hits. Jepsen paints herself as an active character, not a wallower. And if the person on the other side of the speakers isn’t in quite that same place, the melodies on many tracks beckon them to the dance floor.
The Loneliest Time is out 10/21 via Interscope and School Boy. Pre-order it here.