[2014.08.04] Tom Hollingworth, for NE:MM Online Magazine.
Blessed with a rich, silken voice, Jenny Lewis has worked hard, carving a career writing sensual and hypnotic songs, often dressed in sparkling lyrical and melodic irony. From her original output with Rilo Kiley back in 1999, Lewis came into her own (supported by The Watson Twins) with her debut solo album Rabbit Fur Coat, released in 2006, which resonated for its strong sense of concept and more focussed arrangements. Now in 2014, after many detours and side-projects, we are treated to her third solo record, The Voyager.
Immediately, attention is drawn to a change in production values as the opening track Head Underwater shimmers like a blazing sun on the water of a guitar-shaped swimming pool. Where as the angles of the electric guitar sounds on her previous releases I’m Having Fun Now (as Jenny & Jonny) and Acid Tongue (solo) twanged in the rawness of a dryer, as-live production, here, they are melted into a reverberating California-fresh pop scenery, like a modern pastiche of Tom Petty’s sound in the late eighties. The songs throughout maintain a slickness. Slippery Slopes has a lead electric guitar that bends nonchalantly with the vocal melody. The drums in You Can’t Outrun ‘Em shift the song at a cool raised heartbeat. The baby colours and the stars of Lewis’ jacket on the cover image forewarn the encompassing vision for the mix of the album perfectly.
Lyrically, Lewis charts troubled times and unsettled relationship issues of the past over progressions and melodies full of optimism. In She’s Not Me our confessor reveals the hurt in the surprise of discovering that her lover had been unfaithful. A similarly dissolving relationship is considered from a different angle in A New You with Lewis giving the subject a character assassination over the chirpiest of I-V-IV progressions. Also in this song, Lewis uses a throwaway opening lyric to speculate that this personal separation was foreshadowed by the 9/11 attacks. This example of hyperbole perfectly demonstrates her unique blend of sarcasm and vulnerability. Although the text spelling in the titling of Love U Forever aims at this similar humour, it sits a little conspicuously amongst the other titles.
Her voice is as charismatic as ever: from the slow drawling in Just One Of The Guys to it reaching held high-notes in the title-track. The switching from a sweet light-lilting delivery in the verses, to the sultry low-whispering in the choruses of Late Bloomer marvellously illuminates a path from innocence to experience in that song’s lyrical content.
The Voyager is a very seductive record, packed with songs whose melodic personalities sit comfortably and quite distinctly beside one another. Acid Tongue felt more ambitious for its variety of lyrical and sonic content, not to mention its adventure in song-structure, which leaves this follow up journey feeling more like a cruise than a Columbus exploration. In the same way that with 2007’s Easy Tiger, Ryan Adams brought a pop-concision to the structuring of the album, following records with more variety in pacing prior to it, here, producing Lewis’ latest, he has brought that spirit to her work. The ten songs flow without resistance and the album concludes swiftly long before any diminished interest, but also without curiosity wanting to tug back on the lead. This album adds a wonderful glow and colour to her canon, and may its release free her for an investigation further from her songwriting comfort zone next time.