REVIEW: Jenny Lewis – On The Line

Ahhhh, its indie-folk’s sweetheart, Jenny Lewis. Big beehive and vintage country attire, with a joint in one hand, beer in the other. Back in 2006, Lewis’s first record away from Rilo Kiley, the brilliant Rabbit Fur Coat, found its way around my record player a lot. In fact, there’s never been any huge amount of time where it hasn’t.

There’s always been something genuinely bright and exciting about Jenny Lewis. A child actor who got to her late teens and decided to start an indie band.   I mean, granted, it tends to be a bit rubbish when actors decide to swap career and delve into music. There are some seriously shit albums made from acting people ‘having a pop’ at music. I mean, if you take the nauseating self-confidence of a young American actor and multiply that with the overbearing self-importance of a young indie front person, and a great deal of the time you’re going to have a right knob’ed on your hands. Right?

Not entirely. Along came Jenny Lewis.  An individual that boasted extremely impressive writing and performing talent from the get-go, as well as an undebatable feeling of cool and enough wit to shake a stick at. She carried a kind of freewheeling, not giving a shit kind of quality that has always drawn me to her music.

Over the years, some of the indie quality in Lewis’ albums have been lost to a bigger, brasher country folk sound. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. On The Line is the sound of an artist continuing to allow her songs to mature as she does so herself, but rather than forcing her songs to lose their sense of fun and sparkle, she continues to inject more and more into it, until each song is unapologetically kitsch and packed with a staggering amount of singalong and danceable hooks. She is essentially disposing of traditional pout faced cool for a much more organic, effortless, and carefree model that isn’t afraid to throw down a corny, danceable ballad. We’re talking big, full throttle, country-soaked ballads, often reminiscent of late seventies early eighties singer songwriters, such as James Taylor and Carole king or even Stevie Nicks.

However, below the fun loving, twee exterior to Lewis’s songs, there has always been more than a trace of something more vulnerable.  You get such a strong feeling that she is damaged yet resilient. Indeed, this particular record sees Lewis communicate more clearly than ever that the difficulties from her life (including a mother who struggled throughout her life with addiction and mental illness) have not been without impact. Indeed, the album as a whole was prompted by a breakdown of a long relationship and the death of her Mum. And so, twists of these realities, although fleeting at times, can be experienced throughout the record, in forms of cynicism, seediness and apathy, turning pop tunes and ballads into something much more powerful to those that want to listen and reminding us that despite lifelong stardom, glamour, and a quite startling celebrity social circle, Lewis is indeed a human.

The line between self-medication and self-harm can of course be thin.  Booze, drugs and sex are, as always, strong themes.  This lyrical tone is set early on and remains fairly constant, from opener ‘Heads Gonna Roll’ and through ‘Wasted Youth’ Lewis whimsically and unapologetically paints a picture of her carefree, or at least hedonistic attitude to living.  It’s when the album’s cocksure, almost divaish first single, ‘Red Bull Hennessy’ hits that things get really good.  It’s one of those singles that’s so good, in fact, that you might decide that it’s going to be the single of the year (regardless of its January release date.)

‘Taffy’s’ a lovely song which allows the record to temporarily step away from its otherwise big arrangement heavy stride.  It doesn’t hide anything and from its stripped back piano opening it slowly builds into a luscious orchestral piece that acts as temporary salvation from the party.

The album finishes with the wonderfully catchy and optimistic ‘Rabbit Hole’, something of a full throttle 80s pop tune. “Bad habits will be broken Boy, I have kicked a few And seven days off the dope and I’ll be as good as new” Lewis sings.

On the Line is a frankly fabulous record, but does carry an air of cheesiness.  You can embrace this as a kind of dance around your living room singing into your hairbrush, or you could listen closer and allow yourself to succumb to the sadness that’s lies beneath.  Either way it’s a cracking drinking album. It’s a big record, delivered by an artist that is clearly comfortable in her own skin. It’s a selection of songs that are unapologetically tuneful, if not wonderfully camp at times. We gleefully welcome back Jenny Lewis with our arms open.  Indie folk’s sweetheart.  Big beehive and vintage country attire, with a Joint in one hand, beer in the other and just as damaged as the rest of use.  Cheers Jen.

Words by Mike Hull

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