Jenny Lewis: Introspective Pop

The ex-singer of Rilo Kiley releases her 4th solo album, and it's more personal than ever.

By Robert Baird | Video of the Day | April 6, 2019

Youth says, “I can do it all.” But years pass and suddenly, in music at least, the idea of collaborators, of stacking the deck in your favor while paying tribute to the past begins to have a canny appeal. There’s no questioning Jenny Lewis’ prodigious talents—Vegas-born successful child actor, onetime leader of the band Rilo Kiley and now, on her fourth solo album, a fan of old pros and the success of the California sound of the 70s.

Using the piano on which Carole King recorded Tapestry, and with vocals recorded in Sinatra’s Capitol Records Studio B, On The Line evinces a cool, effective nerve and perspective in both Lewis’ dynamic singing and her multi-faceted songwriting, which here serve bruised, reflective lyrics about rampant familial dysfunction, hot sex and the edge between self-discovery and self-destruction. The wonderful specificity of her words adds vivid flavors as she argues about Elliott Smith and grenadine, plays Candy Crush, cries like Meryl Streep and looks up “at the chemtrail haze.

Where her last album The Voyager leaned towards an 80’s rock sound, this stronger set revels in a seductive musical homage to 70’s Fleetwood Mac-like L.A. decadence and hooky pop/rock. Lewis' sharp, imagistic originals are the star here. The album’s rocker, “Red Bull and Hennessy,” complete with an abrupt ending, is appropriately intoxicating. Led by an acoustic piano, “Wasted Youth” examines one of Lewis favorite subjects. If there’s any controversy here it lies in the gleaming sound and glossy production choices which, centered on her voice, layers on the reverb, big drums and a booming ambience.

And then there’s that aforementioned supporting cast. Starting with heavyweights like Beck and Ryan Adams producing and playing on the album, the band here speaks volumes about Lewis’ reputation and talent and includes drummers Jim Keltner and Ringo Starr, guitarists Smokey Hormel and Jason Faulkner, bassist Don Was and keyboardist Benmont Tench.

Simultaneously harrowing, irresistible and more than a little calculating, On The Line, with its accumulated experience and wisdom is a career milestone.


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