By Adam Markovitz
Updated September 19, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Kevin Mazur/TCA 2012/WireImage

The ”Call Me Maybe” phenomenon, in which an irresistible Canadian jingle invaded America with a viral fury that any flu outbreak would envy, has put Carly Rae Jepsen in a tough spot. Peering into the black abyss of one-hit wonderdom — with the cold eyes of Right Said Fred and Kajagoogoo staring back — the 26-year-old singer has two choices for her next move: either try to ride the bedazzled coattails of her signature tune, or dare to show a little more personality to carve out a niche on the Top 40 playing field. On Kiss, her U.S. debut, Jepsen makes a mad dash for good-enoughness. Kiss‘ 12 tracks (including ”Call Me Maybe” and her top 10 Owl City duet ”Good Time”) almost all sound like reworkings of her big hit, only with a dancier beat here, a sillier lyric there. ”Guitar String/Wedding Ring” has the same syncopated jangle, ”This Kiss” shares its Lisa Frank-level wordplay, and ”Turn Me Up” builds just as energetically to a shooting-star chorus. But none of them have the indefinable, know-it-when-you-hear-it spark of a smash. And Jepsen’s tween-talk non sequiturs (”You are always the way you are/And you’re always the way I am,” she chirps on ”This Kiss”) sound off-key from a singer who’s a lot closer to 30 than 13. The sole outlier, ”Beautiful,” is a slack acoustic duet with Justin Bieber, who signed Jepsen to his label after hearing ”Call Me Maybe” on Canadian radio last year. It’s the stuff of pop fairy tales, but sadly, Jepsen’s time at the ball may be waning. B-