Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: Jenny Lewis, The Voyager

Jenny Lewis's latest solo album, The Voyager, was three years in the making.  She enlisted Ryan Adams as producer, as well as Johnathan Rice and Beck for a few individual tracks.  Jenny's sound can be described as retro California rock. This is her third solo album, and it sounds a lot more like her long-time, now-diffused band Rilo Kiley than either of the the previous ones (it also may be my favorite of the three).  The song "Slippery Slopes" even has a very similar melody and sound to "Under the Blacklight."

The first track, "Head Underwater," juxtaposes catchy music with lyrics contemplating mortality.  "There's a little bit of magic/Everybody has it/There's a little bit of sand left in the hourglass."  "She's Not Me" has a fun disco sound.  "She's not me," Jenny sings.  "She's easy." The song has a bit of an unexpected end to it:  "Remember the night when I destroyed it all/When I told you I cheated/And you punched through the drywall/I took you for granted/When you were all that I needed."

Beck produced and provided backing vocals on "Just One of the Guys."  Jenny sings about how she can never fully make being one of the guys work.  "There's only one difference between you and me/When I look at myself all I can see/I'm just another lady without a baby."  It is a song that makes you think about gender expectations.

"Late Bloomer" is a standout track, showcasing Jenny's storytelling ability. She has said it is inspired by a girl she met while traveling abroad who followed around a songwriter.  In the narrative of the song, the girl inspires her lust for life.  "When I turned sixteen, I was furious and restless" and got a "plane ticket to Paris." She meets Nancy from Boston, whose "eyes were changing like mood stones." "How could I resist her?"  she asks.  "I had longed for a big sister/And I wanted to kiss her but I hadn't the nerve."  It is a poignant reflection on coming of age.  Jenny has said this song almost didn't see the light of day and that it was really coaxed along by Ryan Adams and Benmont Tench (keyboardist of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers).  Lucky for us it came through, as it is quite a special song.

Jenny Lewis' hallmark is a certain stoicism.  She writes lyrics about hardship and heartache, yet the music is usually catchy and often downright sunny.  She clearly wants people to enjoy it and to have fun herself.  Therefore her output can be enjoyed on different levels.  Should the listener choose to go deeper and delve into what she's talking about, there's more to understand.  Says Beck, "I just feel like music needs her. It needs someone doing what she's doing. She's got a special voice, as a writer, and then as a musician.  She's this great combination of so many things."  Indeed.

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars