When Jenny Lewis released her solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat, two years ago, she felt safe in the knowledge that little was riding on it. Had the low-budget independent release failed to impress, there was always the success of Rilo Kiley to return to. Yet not only did the album outsell anything the Californian band ever released, but the one thing that reviews for the group’s subsequent album could agree on was Lewis’ potential star quality.
But where Rabbit Fur Coat was a bare-all confessional that saw a vulnerable Lewis searching for answers, Acid Tongue represents a self-assured step forward. The singer’s wry and wearisome observations are as plaintive as ever, but this time a barbed, dirty-sounding electric guitar imbues them with an energy closer to the southern rock of Ryan Adams rather than the altcountry of Gillian Welch.
With the likes of Elvis Costello and Zooey Deschanel joining return collaborators Conor Oberst and M. Ward, the album’s expansive cast ensures plenty of variety. Meatier arrangements such as -Jack Killed Mom’ and -Fernando’ date back to the previous album and the time spent on them shows. It’s only when the material retreads old ground that it falters, but even then Lewis’ heartfelt angst can illuminate moments that might otherwise seem staid.
Ultimately, the problem with Acid Tongue is its inconsistency: with so little focus, it feels like a collection of songs intended to be played on an iPod shuffl e. That said, its highlights deserve a place on any best-of-2008 playlist and, taken in isolation, reveal a songwriter hitting her stride and rightfully taking centre stage.