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If there’s one thing that I’m an absolute sucker for when it comes to art, it’s autobiographical self-examination. That’s why I rank Jenny Lewis as one of the best songwriters out there. She doesn’t keep any secrets from her audience, for better or worse.
If you’re not familiar, Jenny Lewis was a child actor in the ’80’s landing some notable roles on Golden Girls, Troop Beverly Hills, and The Wizard. She sang in the band Rilo Kiley from 1998 before going solo around 2008. I, like most people not in Southern California, became aware of Rilo Kiley in 2004 when their album, More Adventurous, came out, featuring their big hit Portions for Foxes. I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve still got my cd copy of Under the Blacklight somewhere. It’s awesome because the jewel case was purple, like a blacklight, and it creates a really cool effect on the cover art.
Anyway, in 2007, I was dating a girl who had missed the boat on Rilo Kiley. One night we were driving somewhere, and I played a mix cd in the car that had one of their songs on it, and it stood out to her. It was July, hot and humid, and we were at that stage in a relationship where you can’t keep your hands off of each other.
Did we get back to her place and fool around that night? Nope. I sat on the floor of her bedroom being totally ignored as she listened to the entirety of More Adventurous, occasionally commenting on the profundity of the lyrics and how much she connected with them. She was literally entranced, and I love that I got to be the fly on the wall for it.
That’s the type of songwriter we’re talking about here, folks. Get on board.
In her latest album, On the Line, she lays herself bare like few others can. She reflects on a life full of drugs, sex, failed romances, strained family relationships, all brought to the fore by personal difficulties she was experiencing at the time of writing and recording.
The lead track, Heads Gonna Roll, laments a parting of the ways while acknowledging the same inevitable fate we all share.
Next, Wasted Youth, laments a drug-addled youth set against an upbeat pop melody which makes for some delicious cognitive dissonance that perfect encapsulates drug use.
Red Bull & Hennessy is an uptempo expression of uninhibited sexuality that calls to mind a tipsy evening where things boil over in unbridled passion.
Hollywood Lawn is a dirge about the difficulties of settling down into a “normal” life after experiencing so much of the “abnormal”. Some people just can’t fit in that box, no matter how much they want to.
Do Si Do, thus far, has defied my attempts to analyze it. I don’t know what it’s about, but I love its groove, and the opening line of “Turn up the stereo— ’til everything rattles.” is a message I fully endorse.
Dogwood. Sigh. This one’s heartbreaking. Anyone familiar with the cycle of domestic and how drugs and alcohol factor in to it… y’all are going to feel this one.
Party Clown is an honest assessment of one’s past behavior, and the realization that everyone needs someone.
Little White Dove is another great groove with a very ambiguous meaning, but an educated guess would be that it’s about Lewis’ difficult relationship with her parents and the impact it has her outlook on life. I’m not sure, but stick around for the guitar solo.
Taffy recounts a heartbreaking betrayal by a lover. This is one of those gems where Lewis doesn’t hold anything back, going so deep into her memory as to include the lyrics about nudie pics and a see-through dress. Oh, the things we’ll do with the lovestruck intention of pleasing someone who may not feel the same way.
The title track, On the Line, tells the story of Bobby, who left Lewis for Caroline (an Eastside girl and superfan). What could easily have been a tragedy, is actually triumphant as Lewis taunts him “Listen to my heart beating” proving that she’s alive and well, doing just fine without him.
Rabbit Hole is an uptempo track about those bad influences we all have in our life, and how good it can feel to resist them. To tell them “I’m not gonna go down the rabbit hole with you again.”
Now, that’s just an analysis of the lyrics of this album. The music is quite good as well, as eclectic as ever. Lewis’ voice is pure bourbon, sweet and smooth with an unmistakeable bite.
I do wish there was a bit more rock to the album, that’s my only complaint. But still, The Voyager, her previous album scratches that itch quite well.
You should give it a listen.