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Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘E.MO.TION: Side B’ perfectly effortless and bright

When I was a teenager, I hated pop music more than anything because of its mass appeal. My inner pretentious Ramones-shirt-wearing punk would sneer at anything with so universal and simple a message as, say, “run away with me,” simply because it was presented so broadly that anyone and everyone I knew could warp it to fit themselves.

While I did realize, as I got older and more open-minded, that this stubborn shallowness would fade, Carly Rae Jepsen was still just about the single last artist on earth I expected would rid me of it entirely. And yet, it was Jepsen’s 2015 single, “Run Away With Me,” an absolute monster of a pop song if ever there was one, that ended up doing the trick.

Like Jepsen’s talent, “Run Away With Me” is simply undeniable. The most liberating saxophone since “Born to Run” is merely a set-up for Jepsen, who ends each unforgettable chorus with an ingeniously simple proposition: “run away with me!”

The album it leads off, “E.MO.TION,” is in itself a masterclass of pop. From “Run Away With Me” to the blinding bubblegum-rush of “I Really Like You,” the titanic disco synths of “Gimme Love” and the neon-lit funk ballad “All That,” Jepsen’s vision and complete control of the material remain crystal clear.

Though “E.MO.TION” was seen as a commercial disappointment (it failed to reach the top 15 of the Billboard 200) there was hardly a “Best Albums of 2015” list that didn’t prominently feature the album, Jepsen’s second. Jepsen rode the wave of gushing reviews to surprising performances at indie havens like the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago this summer, but the positive momentum also assisted in the creation of the new postscript to “E.MO.TION,” entitled “E.MO.TION: Side B.”

“E.MO.TION: Side B,” released Aug. 26, is a selection of eight tracks that didn’t make the cut for the original. “Side B,” though, serves to cement Jepsen’s new status as pop’s unlikely chameleon. Each of its eight tracks are just as poised, exuberant and addictive as those on the album they were cut from, with a few highlights that arguably could have stood as singles on the original LP.

Foremost among these is the unstoppable mid-album cut, “Fever.” The love-as-sickness metaphor is far from new, but the urgency with which Jepsen throws herself and her feelings at an unrequited romance can erase any previous example that may exist in your head. Before the explosive chorus, Jepsen croons “So I stole your bike/And I rode all night,” capturing in her ever-elastic vocal range the full spectrum of her pent-up emotions.

The “alright”s she uses to bookend every other line of the chorus serve the same purpose as the similarly-placed “hey!”s in “Run Away With Me,” a hook that acts more like a personal invitation than a catchy melody.

On the opener, “First Time,” the listener gets the wonderful experience of hearing a close approximation of what it would sound like if Jepsen was the lead singer of fellow ‘80s-worshipping, pop-turned-indie darlings Phoenix. The backing track for “Higher” sounds like it could have been plucked right from Daft Punk’s 2013 blockbuster, “Random Access Memories,” but again, Jepsen manages to work wonders with old ingredients.

Helmed by any lesser talent, “E.MO.TION: Side B” would indeed sound formulaic, as its backing tracks fall short of those used on “E.MO.TION” itself. But Jepsen’s songwriting—something that she, even in the most glowing reviews of her music, doesn’t get enough credit for—is so strong and immediately accessible that it could give even the driest of elevator music backgrounds some life.

Her skill as a vocalist—sometimes lost in her charm and stage presence—makes an otherwise forgettable “Side B” track like “Roses” worth multiple listens. Over a comparatively minimalist backing track, Jepsen gets to let her voice loose a little, which she does impressively while never venturing into Christina Aguilera territory.

“E.MO.TION: Side B” is a stronger set of tracks than most artists of any genre can string together for their normal releases, let alone a set of outtakes. For Jepsen, it’s a release that doubles down on her status as one of pop’s most natural artists. She can add color to the most drab of backgrounds and give layers of emotional depth to the most sugary of songs. Even in her outtakes, one can easily find their new favorite song.

Jackson Maxwell can be reached at jlmaxwell@umass.edu or followed on Twitter at @JMaxwell82.

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