The great CRJ may be the only person in history who can give you a one-year anniversary gift made entirely of last year’s leftovers and leave you feeling blessed beyond belief. Released on August 26 almost exactly one year after the release of its first part, E•MO•TION: Side B is actually a short and sweet compilation of the songs that didn’t make the cut for the former album. It drips with simple pop and cascades into a kind of positive despair at the difficulty of relationships which culminates in the standout “Store” which — oh, oh, we need to have a chat about “Store.”
I remember not wanting to like her music when she came out with her earlier albums; they felt vapid, they had empty lyrics and a spaced-out ’90s background that felt like some selection of music chosen from a deflated volleyball. I mean, “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy/Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry/Sunshine on the water that is so lovely/Sunshine almost always makes me high” is not groundbreaking lyricism; neither is “You talk so sweet and it’s dribbling like honey/It’s just one taste/I see what your tryin’ to do, oh oh, yeah yeah/It’s hot, stakes are getting higher.” But at some point I decided that there’s something in there, some strange Krabby Patty secret recipe that hits you with that dopamine and makes you crave the replay button.
To be fair, the Krabby Patties weren’t cooking too well in her first Album, Tug of War. The title track is strangely intense even though you can hear that she sings it with the biggest of grins; “Don’t go out with the girls tonight/I will turn to drink/wonder who you’re screwing.” The tracks flash between High School Musical and Grey’s Anatomy with its moods, and I swear on my life that the opening track “Bucket” had me convinced I had accidentally clicked on a Natasha Bedingfield album. Which is fine — there is not a soul on this earth who doesn’t need a healthy pocketful of sunshine. But I mean, I was confused. I almost had a crisis.
There’s really no crisis any time after 2008, though, so let’s just walk away from the previous album. Kiss is covered in that secret recipe goop that keeps you crying out “Tonight I’m Getting over You” (even though an honest friend would tell you that you land those notes a little bit flat) and dancing to that delicious current of overwrought beats that don’t suffocate you as much as many other artists’ tracks do. Personally I feel like anyone Owl City jams with is all right in my book, which is strange considering that apart from “Good Time” I haven’t listened to him since high school, but it’s undeniable that CRJ doesn’t even have to try to enamor listeners. Who else would offer to turn a piece of guitar string into a wedding ring?
E•MO•TION and E•MO•TION: Side B have both been heavily, heavily marinated in some ’80s nods. Honestly? They sound good on her. You should go to the doctor if that opening siren wail in “Run Away with Me” doesn’t make you stop what you’re doing immediately just to wait for the chorus to buoy you up about as high as you can go. Many of these tracks seem to make some highly personalized nods to bands like Icona Pop by giving the already throwback music a more playful touch. Or, again, magic goop if you’d prefer the technical term. And “All That?” I want to build a time machine just to force Emile Ardolino to add it into Dirty Dancing.
This most recent album release is just every dose of happy you ever might have felt you needed — except, except for the final three tracks. “Higher” drives you to near insanity with CRJ’s strange way to make what should be an angsty beat poem performed at a high school talent show just sound effortlessly cheerful. “Body Language” shouting out at you, “I just think we’re overthinking it” a couple of times will actually convince you that yeah, maybe you are overthinking it just a bit.
She’s so affable, so much like a younger sibling whose songs you learn to love just because of how much she’s trying to make you smile by singing them that her final three tracks in this album really get to you. “Cry” doesn’t belong in Labyrinth by any means, but I still get this image of Jennifer Connelly’s character wandering around looking for her brother every time I listen to it. It just emulates this strange veneer of happiness that flakes off just like a particularly cheap brand of nail polish. The final track, “Roses,” may be the most modern-sounding one in the past two albums but nonetheless keeps a choppy synth propellant throughout the choruses and she pulls off surprisingly well the breathless verses while forcing out “Cat got your tongue, it’s been forever/Have you been good? Have you been better?”
But the penultimate track, “Store” is something all to its own. Aside from the whole idea of suggesting that a desire to avoid a difficult conversation means you can leave your significant other by lying and saying you’re going shopping for a while, this track just sticks to you once you hear it. The lyrics stand out for their absurdity but the totality of the song, from the too-high base slapping your ears and the drum beats more or less spasmodically keeping time, just so perfectly emulates that terrible, terrible moment when you have to tell someone you care about something you know they’re going to hate hearing that it’s hard to imagine it playing off as a happy song. But, and don’t ask me how (magic goop), you have to smile while you listen to it. It could be an anthem for every disassociating teen relationship out there. It could be anthem for bad communication. It could just be an anthem. Let’s just petition right now to make it an anthem for anything. It is actually a massive supporting pole holding up the tent so that the rest of the album can sit comfortably within its protection. Not to say that the other songs aren’t also good — just that they couldn’t stand on their own without this one.
E•MO•TION: Side B could probably have gotten away with calling itself Emotions and been better off; it’s certainly tied to the previous album but they’re simply not similar enough to have been placed on two sides of the same record. That being said, I’m unendingly grateful that she roped all of these “reject” tracks together because honestly, this is just what you need walking through campus after a long night — whether it was a good or bad one. Happy anniversary, CRJ. Can’t wait for next year.
Jessie Weber is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.