The efforts by male and female duos in recent years- Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, She & Him, and now Jenny and Johnny- have seen an oft neglected form back in vogue; quirky and gimmicky though it may seem. A couple off- stage, the fluid chemistry between Rilo Kiley front woman Jenny Lewis and Scottish-American singer-songwriter Johnathan Rice is convincing and produces hummable melodies and memorable harmonies. Lewis, in part, leaves the country and folk roots of her excellent solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat, behind and taps into her indie- pop roots through Rice. His versatile vocals and range can be haunting, angelic and aggressive (sometimes all at once), which work well against Lewis’ strong, piercing vocals that recall country music’s Great Dames: Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Loretta Lynn.
At the core of I’m Having Fun Now is, as the title implies, two friends and lovers going through their record collection and discovering what pop music has influenced them both. Opener ‘Scissors Runner’ is a perfect example of two musicians that have been clearly influenced by 80’s and 90’s indie pop music, recalling both Reckoning- era R.E.M.’s ‘Second Guessing’ and The Lemonheads’ ‘Alison’s Starting to Happen’ from ‘It’s a Shame About Ray’. ‘Just Like Zeus’ begins with the drone of guitars so reminiscent Of The Jesus and Mary Chain but quickly blends with the country pop that so defines the record.
Like many male/female duo records, the lyrics are often informed by gender politics and in ‘My Pet Snakes’ Lewis bashes female sell-outs with the ribald humor of Alex Turner (“I don’t believe in sucking my way to the top’). Such brash, sweeping statements are countered by the beautiful, dreamy Americana of ‘Switchblade’, led by Jonathan Rice and indicative of his solo work- particularly Trouble is Real. It’s followed by the Rilo Kiley- esque ‘Big Wave’, the flagship single of the record. Covering the current economic crisis, it doesn’t really take an interesting angle or offer new insight into the situation or the lives of those affected, as a John Prine or Conor Oberst song would. Although the melody and harmonies are infectious, the lyrics (“And we save our money in good faith/ and we work hard for a living wage/ but still the banks got a break”) sounds like trite, teenage poetry. The final track, ‘Committed’, is a rollicking country- rock tune that, although to close for comfort to Billy Ray Cyrus’ ‘Achy Breaky Heart’, is a hilarious run through recent events in America (For God and Country/ For Michael Jackson’s monkey).
Fans of Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley and many other acts associated with Saddle Creek records will, inevitably, love this very companionable album that connects with contemporary America through a love of old records, a recording chemistry that can’t be faked and contagious harmonies that you’ll be singing for weeks on end. Most of all, it’s great fun.