To those who are wondering whether Carly Rae Jepsen can rescue her career from the ash bin of One Hit Wonder-dom: If you have to ask, it’s already too late.
Maybe if “Call Me Maybe” had done a little less well, if it hadn’t been responsible for such a protracted national freak-out this past summer, she wouldn’t be in this fix. But at some point, probably around the time the dancing pup Corgi Rae Jepsen went viral, “Call Me Maybe” became not just something Jepsen had to live up to, but something she had to live down.
“Kiss” is actually Jepsen’s second full-length album: The singer, who is 26 going on 14, released her official debut, an over-processed coffeehouse folk outing called “Tug Of War,” in 2008. “Kiss” is just as synthetic but zippier. It’s a pleasantly lacquered set of pleasantly unremarkable dance-pop songs that is only the thing it needs to be — not terrible — and not much more.
“Kiss” may not be distinctive or even very good, but it’s likable, fast on its feet and blissfully uncluttered. A grouping of synth-heavy pop songs shorn of all but the most necessary beats and loops, “Kiss” has also been stripped of most obvious trend signifiers (just about everything here would have sounded equally at home in 2005) in favor of clean, often joyous pop songs, dutifully lined up and politely swatted down. Many of them (“Tiny Little Bows,” “Hurt So Good”) sound like “Call Me Maybe,” only less so.
There are some outliers: “Beautiful,” a three-way semi-acoustic duet with Jepsen’s patron Justin Bieber and his AutoTune, is an unapologetic, marginally less condescending riff on One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” (“What makes you so beautiful / Is you don’t know how beautiful you are”). “Good Time,” a collaboration with Owl City’s Adam Young, is an equally unapologetic and marginally smarter riff on any number of Black Eyed Peas songs. “Your Heart Is a Muscle” is a lovely ballad and undersold, evidence that Jepsen can deliver a slow song without over-singing and without sounding irritated (Katy Perry) or bored (Rihanna) with its subject.
A veteran of “Canadian Idol” (she came in third — it was a tough season), Jepsen can probably sing better than she needs to. But a Murderer’s Row of high-priced producers (Max Martin, the guy who plays the bushy-haired uncle in LMFAO, Dallas Austin) can’t manage to fashion a persona for her. Lovely and mild, Jepsen is the rare aspiring diva without the slightest whiff — however manufactured — of danger, sex or madness.
This will probably prove far more hazardous to her long-term job prospects than the lack of a follow-up single. (“Kiss” has many contenders, all vanilla.) Unless she plans to shoot firecrackers out of her bra, date Chris Brown or revive some long-ago meth habit, Jepsen will always be the polite, forgettable Canadian girl who sang that song in the summer of 2012. The one you never want to hear again.
Carly Rae Jepsen performs at Verizon Center on Nov. 5.
“Call Me Maybe,” “Your Heart Is a Muscle,” “Tiny Little Bows”