Jenny Lewis-The Voyager
“The Queen of Indie Rock.” It has a nice ring to it, no? With the time, output, collaborations, proximal relations and moxie she has given us, I would say that Jenny Lewis has more than earned the title. That’s not even mentioning the fact that she was the face of one of the genre’s seminal bands, Rilo Kiley.
It’s been almost four years since we’ve heard anything properly released from Ms. Lewis. In fact, one more month and it would be to the day since she and her boyfriend, Johnathan Rice, released their first album as Jenny & Johnny. Before that, her first two solo albums, “Rabbit Fur Coat,” which preceded Rilo Kiley’s hiatus and “Acid Tongue,” which came a year after, showed us that she would not have to live in the shadow of her former band. In fact, she may not have needed that platform at all.
This month, she shows us another side of herself—a much more vulnerable side. Lewis’ new album, “The Voyager,” speaks very plainly, for the first time, about the breakup of Rilo Kiley, the subsequent (or maybe preceding) breakup with guitarist Blake Sennett and the death of her mostly absent father. For some of the songs, she doesn’t make the message obvious. Several tracks are more upbeat than their lyrical counterparts might insist. To realize this, one doesn’t really have to look very far beyond the very first track. ‘Head Underwater’ is a lively track about mortality and realizing how much control one may have over it. ‘Love U Forever’ places a gigantic question mark over the ideas of monogamy and marriage, ironically enough though, considering the composition, we may be more likely to expect a song about a fling. Even as lively and whimsical as the lead single, ‘One of the Guys’ may seem, there is a very vulnerable theme lurking underneath it. “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.” I remember hearing that line for the first time and feeling the sting for her, as much as a man can empathize. She is nearly 40, and one of the things that our society still deems as proper for a woman, namely motherhood, is out of her grasp right now. This adds a bare bones level of realism to an artist who is very accomplished, but somewhat guarded on a lot of issues. This is not to say that the album is as personal as it is relatively inviting. Lewis doesn’t want pity as much as empathy. This is why she broadens her scope to include tragedies we can all relate to, like 9/11 and the Challenger explosion. The title actually serves as an allusion to the latter.
Ultimately, “The Voyager” stands alone in the scope of Lewis’ musical output to this point as a very strong and moving statement. It’s been a bit of a wait, but if time better equips her to produce this way, I would say it’s more than worthwhile. “The Voyager” is out now via Warner Brothers Records.
Track of the Week
The New Pornographers ‘War on the East Coast’
When a group is comprised of songwriting giants like A.C. Newman, Neko Case and Dan Bejar, the hits will proverbially keep coming. Last week, the band released ‘War on the East Coast’ from its upcoming album “Brill Bruisers,” with Bejar at the helm. The track stands alone compared to its much brighter title track predecessor. Check it out on YouTube or wherever you stream music. “Brill Bruisers” will be out Aug. 26 via Matador.