“Call Me Maybe,” that irresistible über-earworm of a tune, wriggled its way to pop megahit status largely because of how effortless it seemed. Sure, Canadian Idol alumna Carly Rae Jepsen benefitted greatly from a Bieberian assist, but her breezy sentiments, maple-sugar melodies, and electric string swooshes added up to a delectable summery song that sounded as unforced as it was radio-friendly.
But as Kiss—technically Jepsen’s sophomore album—makes clear, those Dear Diary lyrics and winsome vocals belie a steely-eyed performer on a calculated course towards stardom. In addition to a guest appearance by Bieber (her duet partner on “Beautiful,” a pretty acoustic ballad that directly quotes One Direction), a cabal of populist hitmakers are listed in the credits—the most surprising is one S.K. Gordy, a.k.a LMFAO’s Redfoo, who co-wrote and/or produced a trio of tracks.
Happily, the songs here avoid the laser-effect party rock template, although most have a distinct whiff of familiar ubiquitous singles; many explicitly crib from the book of Katy Perry (“This Kiss” and “Turn Me Up,” with their crystalline synths and bubbly hooks, echo “California Gurls” and “Teenage Dream,” respectively). It’s a smart strategic move, given that the former Mrs. Russell Brand tied Michael Jackson’s record for chart-topping hits—but compared to Perry’s over-the-top Candyland fantasia, Jepsen’s girl-next-door earnestness is immensely appealing.
Kiss breaks no new ground, but aside from the egregious Sam Cooke snippet on opening track “Tiny Little Bows” (like Cupid’s bow—get it?), it’s also refreshingly free of any glaring missteps. And while the blissed-out strains of Jepsen’s anthems might suggest otherwise, putting together a charming, well-crafted pop album without any real duds is a lot harder than it sounds.
Playlist picks: “Call Me Maybe” (duh), “Hurt So Good,” “Beautiful”