Jenny Lewis

On the Line

Warner Bros.

Apr 02, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Veteran of the indie game, Jenny Lewis has impressed sufficiently with each musical project she's put out; from her three solo albums (Rabbit Fur Coat, Acid Tongue, Voyager) to The Postal Service, Jenny & Johnny, and Nice as Fuck. Her music videos often boast her indie cred and Hollywood connections thanks to her start as an in-demand child actor. Her writing is muscular yet peppered with pretty mots and delightful turns of phrases, be it sung in "The Frug's" early twee of her first band Rilo Kiley or later years-Lewis, in her best Stevie Nicks. A generation of female indie rockers from bands such as Best Coast, Waxahatchee, and Charly Bliss has been inspired by her feminist-flecked suburban hymns. Still, beyond the cognoscenti she is not quite a household name. The artifice she employs as armor; assuming a role, wearing that rainbow suit, the way she sings about heartbreaking moments with an icy detachmentcan be off-putting. Yet, as we marchalbeit at glacial pacetowards parity in an industry notorious for misogyny, we are primed more than ever for Lewis' fourth solo record. And while every solo album has been touted "her most personal," On the Line should thrive beyond just the cult of Jenny.

Stacked with radio-friendly earworms aplenty, this is no empty-calories pop. It's filled with inescapable themesspirituality, life after death, addiction, loss—you can sink your teeth into, commiserate, and then sing along; hopefully through Meryl Streep-type tears. On "Heads Gonna Roll" she paints pictures so vivid, you are googling the "nuns of Harlem," realizing their mission might restore some of your faith back in Christianity. Or you get a whiff of Middle Eastern incense with "hope the sycophants in Marrakesh/Make you feel your very best/Anonymity must make you blue;" packing a novel-sized universe into one biting stanza. With a free scratch-and-sniff sticker enclosed.

Here, her famous friends and collaborators (Beck, Ringo Starr, Don Was, Benmont Tench, Jim Keltner) threaten to distract from Lewis' singular voice, especially when she goes on a certain fruity radio show and all the host bangs on about is their accomplishments. Worse, it might put folks off with the stench of privilege before they hear the darn songs. And they're unmissable. "Wasted Youth," with it's "do do do"chorus, "Hollywood Lawn" a gorgeous piano ballad where she is weary of the  "trippers and drama queens" and the dreamy "Do Si Do" alluding to the dance between rock 'n' roll and male suicide. "Taffy" holding one the most evocative images of  "wall's filled with molasses" and "Dogwood" both ruminations of failed lovemight have to list the whole album, every single one is a thing of beauty. Oh "Party Clown!"

What's changed? Something immense happens when a parent dies, especially when as in Lewis' case there's been estrangement. Her heroin-addicted mother's physical absence has loomed large, affecting major life decisions she's made. Perhaps now demons held at arms length can be exorcised. Lewis lost her mother in 2017 and everywhere maternal references abound. From the album's plummy bosom-Las Vegas cover, to copious talk of addiction, and "Little White Dove," which pits Lewis as the harbinger of peacethe heroineto mend their relationship, at the hospital deathbed. This period also coincides with the dissolution of her 12-year relationship with Johnathan Rice. Here she lays it all bare, the armor she sets aside for a bit. So we kneel, prostrate, listeninganother convert. (www.jennylewis.com)  

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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