Seven years is a long time in the music game. That’s how long it’s been since Rilo Kiley swallowed up the US indie landscape with Under The Blacklight, their replete pop-rock swansong. In the meantime, Haim have shimmied on to the scene looking and sounding like Hanson in Fleetwood Mac costumes while poor Lana Del Rey has made millions by groaning about the torture of being young, hot and talented. Thank Christ, then, that Jenny Lewis has appeared on the horizon.
Try as they might, no one embodies the rot and heartbreak at the core of stardom quite like Lewis, the one time ’80s child star who would have seen and heard the unspeakable growing up around cigar-chomping Tinseltown elite. The Rilo Kiley frontwoman who laid bare the needle and the damage done with equal parts sugar and acid before “deception, disloyalty and greed” tore her and co-founder (and ex-lover) Blake Sennett apart in 2011. It’s for all these reasons that The Voyager is most welcome. And as she goads in ‘Head Underwater’, there’s still plenty of fight left in Lewis.
Ahead of his mooted new LP, Ryan Adams has been called on to move the studio dials on most tracks here, and his production is a major contributor to an album that swirls upwards with each repeated listen. Country inflections gild the Beck-produced lead single ‘One Of The Guys’ and ‘Late Bloomer’’s seedy travel log, but things really hum when Lewis awakens the ghosts of Buckingham, Nicks and Sound City. The ’70s grooves are perfectly suited to these laments and confessions of moral missteps and tangled relationships. ‘She’s Not Me’ cuts in such a female way (“She’s not me/she’s easy”) that you can practically hear Adams fetching her a saucer of milk. In ‘One Of The Guys’, the 38-year-old dresses tragic lines like “to you I’m just another lady without a baby” in jaunty clothing, before ‘Slippery Slopes’ finds her shovelling dirt on druggy self-loathing and “sleeping with pros”, all to a crawling recycle of an Under The Blacklight melody.
We have a weird fascination with people that have weathered the most destructive era in showbiz excess, a time when all that mattered were flares and coke and the belief you could quit whenever you wanted. She may not have the pout or the zingy sisters of her aforementioned successors, but Lewis has something they can’t imitate – the battle scars.