Release Date: Mar 22, 2019
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
The former child's star's emotionally resonant, Ringo Starr-featuring fourth album is up there with her greatest work to date, packed with searing lyrics and solid-gold melodies There's always been a cinematic quality to Jenny Lewis' storytelling, and in painting pain, heartbreak, infatuation and hedonistic escape in bright brushstrokes, her fourth solo album 'On the Line' shimmers like a gaudy neon sign marking the entrance to a dive bar. Beneath the hulking great pop songs, however (and make no mistake, this is a record of wall-to-wall melodic gold), there's a underlying darkness. Like the gritty enclaves of shadow that lurk behind the artifice of California - the grimy alleyways skirting casinos and bars, the endless and pursuit of that non-existent American dream - the album’s shimmering sonic shell stands in contrast to the raw lyrical honesty within.
Jenny Lewis doesn't rush her solo records; 'On the Line' is only her second since 2008's 'Acid Tongue'. Last time out, on the stylistic grab-bag that was 2014's 'The Voyager', chronic insomnia, the death of her father and the drawn-out demise of her old band, Rilo Kiley, had all conspired to keep her out of songwriting action for a while; 'On the Line', though, sounds as if its slow-burning gestation was all part of the plan - it's a stately and unhurried affair that methodically untangles heartbreak with sharp storytelling and Lewis' trademark rapier wit. Where the sonic palette was the cornerstone of each previous solo release (the alt-country of 'Rabbit Fur Coat', for instance, or 'Acid Tongue''s soulful blues), 'On the Line' hangs together not on its sound but on its thematic material; the collapse of Jenny's long-term relationship with one-time collaborator Johnathan Rice hangs heavy, from quietly epic opener 'Heads Gonna Roll' through to the softly broken 'Taffy' and the title track, a typically razor-point kiss-off that dismantles a former lover's self-absorption whilst lamenting them leaving "for an East Side superman called Caroline.
Good storytelling is in the details. Not long into her fourth solo album, On the Line, Jenny Lewis introduces a narcoleptic poet from Duluth, with whom she spars over everything from Elliott Smith to grenadine; a father who used to sing a little ditty about all the years he threw away on heroin; an East Side girl called Caroline, to whom a lover is bitterly lost. There's mention of Candy Crush, Slip'N Slides, Rambo, Marlboros, Meryl Streep's tears, Dorothy's ruby slippers, Don Quixote, the rivalry between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the bridge in La Crosse, Wisconsin, a couple different kinds of fancy cars, one disgusting-sounding drink, and a truly staggering amount of illegal drugs.
Jenny Lewis has always been a storyteller, first and foremost. She captures people and places - out of control, out of place and searching for answers and solutions - permanent, temporary, or for one night only. Yet she has always had a remarkable buffering ability with the sweet and the light. In her happiest moments, you search for the storm on the horizon.
The Lowdown: Jenny Lewis is a towering figure in the world of indie rock. As the leader of Rilo Kiley, she influenced an entire generation, writing the kind of songs that inspire tattoos and mantras. Following the band’s split in 2008, her solo records have cemented her legacy, especially 2014's triumphant The Voyager. In the five years since, Lewis has gone through a series of major life changes with the death of her estranged mother due to liver cancer and the dissolution of a 12-year relationship with musician Jonathan Rice.
Her influence on Waxahatchee and countless others is clear; her honesty, warmth and melodic savvy made young women feel like it was OK to be their unguarded selves in their songs, and Lewis's penchant for taking her time between albums has only helped to increase her status as the figurehead for certain types of songwriter. On The Line is her first album in half a decade and is the first time she's made an audible attempt to honour this adulation. Its predecessor, 2014's The Voyager, was arguably the best album to bear her name since Rilo Kiley 's 2002 breakthrough The Execution of All Things.
Like Jenny Lewis' three previous solo albums, "On the Line" (Warner) embraces a different era of music-making. It evokes the Los Angeles of the 1970s and the lush studio production of Laurel Canyon folk-rock and Fleetwood Mac "Rumours"-style commercialism. The singer-songwriter surrounds herself with musicians steeped in that aesthetic, including masters such as drummer Jim Keltner and keyboardist Benmont Tench (plus some guy named Ringo Starr).
What do you do when you break up with your partner of 12 years? You leave your native California and crash at Annie (St Vincent) Clark's in New York. Jenny Lewis is a songwriter's songwriter, a dulcet and subversive chronicler of LA shammery whose often sombre subjects come wrapped in the sweetest of country-tinged deliveries. To her breakup we can add the death of her mother (who featured on 2006's stunning Rabbit Fur Coat).
"This is how you do Americana." Even before the dissolution of Rilo Kiley half a decade ago, front woman Jenny Lewis had established herself as a solo artist in her own right. 'On The Line' is her fourth album as an individual performer, and her first since 2014's warmly affecting 'The Voyager'. She doesn't deviate too far from the path she's firmly established for herself - deceptively adroit alt-country with a keen eye for a killer hook - but there seems little incentive for her to stray too far.