Full disclosure: I love Jenny Lewis. She is my musical alter ego, and an indie rock goddess. Her lyrics are poetry and they say everything I could ever want to say but can’t.
Lewis writes about insecurity and falling in and out of love and the impermanence of everything, including and especially ourselves. At this time, I’d like to thank my junior year college roommate for constantly playing the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack because it contained “Portions For Foxes”; thus began my journey into the depths of Rilo Kiley, the now-defunct band Lewis co-fronted.
A year or two later, around 2008, Pandora kept rightly insisting I’d like Rilo Kiley. At some point, I finally got all of their albums from the library and experienced their discography almost at once. For a while those albums blended together in my mind in a tapestry of beauty, self-loathing, and acerbic lyrics.
“Pictures of Success” has long held special meaning to me as a song I listened to a lot the week I made the decision to leave Ohio and move to Chicago. “A Better Son/Daughter” was, for a while, my personal anthem: despite a then-rocky relationship with a parent and unannounced waves of depression, that song made me feel like I could pick myself back up and dust myself off, with energy, optimism, and ambition.
Lewis has always had a way with words that drew me in, using clever turns of phrase or a dark line with a juxtaposed upbeat tempo. But Rilo Kiley broke up years ago, and Lewis hadn’t released a solo album since 2008. I’d kind of given up hope that she’d put anything else out, so when her newest album, “The Voyager,” was announced in May, there was much internal (and social media) rejoicing on my part.
It became available on NPR First Listen Monday, and after several listens, here are my initial thoughts:
“She’s Not Me” This might be my favorite track from “The Voyager.” It tells the story of an ex-lover finding someone else and having a baby. But after all, “she’s not me — She’s easy.” Key lyrics include, “I used to think you could save me…I took you for granted when you were all that I needed.”
“Just One of the Guys” This single from the album was released a few weeks ago, and I loved it right away. A choice lyric in this one is, “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.” The fun video for this song came out last week and features Anne Hathaway, Kirstin Dunst, Brie Larson, and Lewis in drag.
“The New You” This one is damn catchy and maybe has the best lyrics on the album. Lewis sings in the intro, “When the twin towers fell and it all went to hell/I knew you’d be leaving me soon. … You perfected the art/of making it all about you” followed by, “Whatever you’re avoiding will greet you at the door.”
“Head Underwater” Some parts of this song made me think of Bon Iver’s 2011 album, but I am not musically-educated enough to know what they are. Luckily The Recorder‘s own Travis Cook is, and listened to this track to offer some insight. He points out that this album’s opening track “Head Underwater” and Bon Iver’s closing track “Beth/Rest” create mirroring tones with a combination of a solid electronic beat and an atmospheric use of strings, creating a soaring effect.
“The Voyager” The title track was the second track made available ahead of the album’s release. It’s beautiful, moving, and haunting.
Not crazy about:
“Late Bloomer” This song has kind of a country sound to it, telling the story of Nancy, some woman who seduces the narrator into a threesome with a guy who wrote a song Nancy liked. I will say “she was searching for the writer of a song that made her shiver” is a good line, but other than that I am just not into this song. Other songs Lewis has written that are narrative like this are just more interesting to me, like “Does He Love You?” or “A Man/Me/Then Jim.”
“You Can’t Outrun ‘Em” I want to like this song, written about Lewis’s dad who passed away, but it’s just not sticking with me yet.
I eagerly await my pre-ordered vinyl edition and matching tote bag despite not owning a record player yet. If you listen to “The Voyager” and want to see Jenny Lewis live, she’ll be in Chicago August 1 for a Lollapalooza aftershow. Tickets are available here.