Release Date: Jul 29, 2014
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Lurking beneath the seductive, supple gloss of The Voyager lies a serious undercurrent of sorrow -- an undercurrent Jenny Lewis doesn't disguise but doesn't bring to the surface, either. Someone, somewhere broke her heart, and perhaps the culprit is Lewis herself. Regret and self-recrimination abound on The Voyager: it's a tattered storybook full of relationships gone to rot, missed marriages, infidelities forgiven but not forgotten, wistful teenage memories fading in the face of adult disappointment.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. She calls it "the hardest one I ever made"; that's Jenny Lewis' assessment of The Voyager, her first solo album since 2008's Acid Tongue. Six long years in which Lewis coped with the break-up of Rilo Kiley, the death of her father, bouts of insomnia and writers' block. Six years dotted with regular black days, extreme grief coupled with complete exhaustion took her to the brink before a spell as part of the briefly-reunited The Postal Service's touring band began a rejuvenation of sorts (Lewis had continued to write during her periods of sleeplessness) that culminated in visiting Ryan Adams' studio and pulling together this, her eighth studio album and third solo record.
There’s something endearing about a pop artist who’s a dyed-in-the-wool space cadet. I’m not talking about the manicured crazy of, for example, a Katy Perry or Niki Minaj, who have pretty much perfected the art of mainlining ADHD into prepubescent girls with their hectic repertoires of cartoon poses. More the old-fashioned, small town acid-trip eccentricity of your Bush, Bowie or Black (Francis) – imaginative fruit loops with an intelligence shot through their sound.
Jenny Lewis is one of the rare non-pop artists we've had the chance to grow alongside. Some of us were first acquainted with her as far back as her childhood acting roles—she'll always be Haley from The Wizard to me—while many caught up with her in the late '90s with the launch of Rilo Kiley. She charmed us again as part of The Postal Service, and we followed her faithfully between alternating Rilo Kiley and country-tinted solo records, numerous side appearances, and a Jenny and Johnny album recorded with partner Johnathan Rice.
Years ago, dulcet-voiced Jenny Lewis, frontwoman of LA indie rockers Rilo Kiley, released her debut solo album Rabbit Fur Coat, an undersung indie-country-soul gem. Since then, much has happened, and also, somehow, not enough. Rilo Kiley are no more, Lewis has released more records (as herself, as Jenny and Johnny) and collaborated widely, while remaining less celebrated than a singer, harmoniser and lyricist of her calibre should be; more recently, her estranged father died.
At 28 years old, Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis laid a bucket full of twenty-something angst on the table in a song called “Portions For Foxes.” Loneliness, poor decisions, self-loathing – it was all there, culminating in a catchy refrain of “Baby, I’m bad news.” That kind of statement that’s easier to get away with when you’re in your twenties; not that everybody has everything figured out by their thirties, but you’re probably less likely to broadcast it so openly. That was 10 years ago. Lewis is now 38, and her career has taken a variety of detours since the release of that song and the album it’s from, More Adventurous.
Review Summary: Nothin' lasts forever when you travel time.The Voyager is a gorgeous record. Drawn in lush broadstrokes of ‘70s California cool and the kind of warm, fuzzy production Ryan Adams has been marinating in for years, it’s the kind of album that slides by, smooth and sorrowless. Upon first listen, it’s disappointing, the way Under the Blacklight felt, a tired retread of plastic feelings and corny sunsets.
Rilo Kiley didn’t technically break up until 2011, but the band was clearly on the rocks by the time Jenny Lewis released her second solo album in 2008. That album, Acid Tongue, was a collection of affected set-pieces uninspiring enough that it seemed like the best we could hope for was the chance of something decent from Jenny & Johnny, her cloying folk-pop duo with boyfriend Johnathan Rice. What a relief to find Lewis’ new album The Voyager is her strongest solo release and best overall effort since Rilo Kiley’s 2004 LP, More Adventurous.
Teenage girls everywhere practically prayed to Jenny Lewis, identifying with every feeling on Rilo Kiley’s The Execution of All Things and singing along with every word. She was the reason I, personally, wore too-short thrift store dresses to classes and parties in college, kept my bangs trimmed and brushed to one side, doused my eyelashes in coat after coat of mascara (a habit I still haven’t shaken to this day), and practiced her thin-lipped pout in PhotoBooth selfies in the library when I was bored with studying. She was the cute, sensual, no-bullshit woman I wanted to be.
In the 1930s the writer Gertrude Stein traveled to the Bay Area, where she visited her hometown of Oakland. When she arrived, she discovered that her childhood home had been razed and in its place erected new, anonymous buildings. It was a different and less inviting place, one that did not match up to her memory.
Jenny Lewis was quoted in the press release for her new album: “Many of the songs on The Voyager came out of the need to occupy my mind in the moments when I just couldn’t shut down. ” And as she sings in opener “Head Underwater,” “I put my head underwater, baby/ I held my breath until it passed/ Crossed my fingers and concentrated/ I closed my eyes and I was free at last. ” It’s easy to imagine the appeal of Lewis’ relatively straightforward rock as the hypnotizing effect of immersing oneself in a zone without exchange, expression, or capability and finding, in place of death, a curious occupation of the mind.
If The Voyager is any indication, Jenny Lewis has matured a fair bit in the six years since her last solo album, 2008's Acid Tongue. On that slightly ramshackle, under-produced album, Lewis still sounded a little lost after the dissolution of Rilo Kiley, using guests to fill in the cracks of an album whose sound somehow seemed both bigger and smaller than Lewis at the same time. On The Voyager, Lewis is confident and sharp, her incisive, dark lyrics juxtaposed by bright, sunny instrumentals that help the album go down easy while rewarding repeat listens.
Former Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis gave her Rolodex a workout while making her third solo album, tapping a Wrecking Crew's worth of backing musicians: Beck, Ryan Adams (who co-produced seven of the 10 tracks), Lou Barlow and a slew of other pals. The result could have been a muddle, but The Voyager hangs together as a loose yet polished California-pop travelogue of Lewis' endlessly messy life. Her songs are sometimes more revealing than deep ("All those times we were making love/I never thought we'd be breaking up," she sings on "She's Not Me").
As you progress through life, you begin to realise that pop music is a young person’s game. The biggest selling artists are barely out of their teens, the majority of marketing is aimed at schoolchildren, and songs centre on youthful emotions. The first flush of love you think will last forever, uncontrollable lust, having a great time and dancing the night away – in the Top 40, everyone’s about eighteen years old.
It’s been six years since Jenny Lewis’s last solo album, but she’s by no means been sitting twiddling her thumbs. Since 2008’s Acid Tongue, she recorded another album, 2010’s I’m Having Fun Now, with her partner Johnathan Rice – under the moniker Jenny and Johnny – and toured with The Postal Service. This of course means that she’s taken the backseat for a while, not calling the shots in the way she did with Rilo Kiley and her two previous solo outings.
The delirium induced by five consecutive nights without sleep was a creative tool for Jenny Lewis as she made her first solo album in six years. Or so she claims, though The Voyager's finely wrought sketches of mortality and infidelity sound like the product of months of painstaking polishing. The former Rilo Kiley singer is eminently skilled at turning the detritus of relationships into relatable lyrics, caustically writing about ageing, her biological clock and watching an ex-boyfriend move on with undue haste.
Jenny Lewis has made a career out of cultivating a certain measure of lyrical honesty, via diaristic songs that pitch personal trauma into the realm of sunshine pop, her sunny voice further sweetening the mix. In most cases this spinning of private pain into musical gold has been conducted behind some sort of screen, borrowed aesthetics intermediating between her and the music, as with the Laurel Canyon country of her first two solo albums, drawing perspectives and poses from all over the Americana spectrum. Most of those filters are removed on The Voyager, an intimate album apparently born out of some intense emotional distress.
Jenny Lewis’ third solo album changed course dramatically when Ryan Adams got his hands on it. Lewis had just finished singing on The Postal Service’s 2013 reunion tour when she tweeted Adams asking if she could record ‘The Voyager’ in his Pax-Am studio. He agreed, as long as Lewis recorded his way: in straight takes, never listening back to a day’s work.
With her former band, Rilo Kiley, and on her two previous solo albums, Jenny Lewis's strengths were her sharp wordplay and her ability to write a downright depressing song but then cheekily pair it with a cheery alt-country melody. But on The Voyager, Lewis's first album in five years, she takes a more direct approach to love, death and growing up. While her straightforward songwriting certainly comes across as honest, it can feel a little hokey.
Jenny Lewis has never been one to mince her words. Over an intermittent solo career and years spent leading L.A. indie-rock darlings Rilo Kiley, her voice - a silky, versatile thing - has channelled rage, despondence and despair in frank, forthright tones, often set to backing so breezy and upbeat that a casual listen might not let on what an expressive lyricist she became.
The first three seconds of Jenny Lewis’s new album sounds like a cresendo-ing choir—until it’s clipped, cut off, stopped prematurely by a piano chord. It then progresses into a treatise on nostalgia, mortality and unexpected outcomes. And Head Underwater is just the beginning. Despite the wide-eyed vocals and optimistic guitars, The Voyager is an album intensely concerned with the passing of time and the inevitability of that passing.
Whatever you end up making of The Voyager, accusations of it being a rush job will invariably fall wide of the mark. It’s been six years since Jenny Lewis dropped her last solo record, Acid Tongue, although as she was at pains to point out when I interviewed her for Best Fit last month, her collaboration with Johnathan Rice in 2010 - I’m Having Fun Now - effectively amounts to “half a solo record”. In the meantime, she’s written her first film score, toured with The Postal Service and, if the early press materials for The Voyager are anything to go by, struggled with insomnia and writer’s block in the wake of Rilo Kiley’s split.
Jenny Lewis The Voyager (Warner Bros.) As Jenny Lewis creeps toward the big 4-0 it weighs heavy on third solo LP The Voyager. The classic rock-scripted memoir details dysfunctional relationships, nostalgia, and insecurities lying over the hill with the same wit and effortless coolness demonstrated by the twentysomething who fronted Rilo Kiley for 15 years. Beck-produced track "Just One of the Guys" examines the disparity between aging women and men, obvious annoyance countered by bright, jangled surf rips.
There’s a lot of implied movement on The Voyager, the third solo LP by former Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis. The record’s namesake, after all, is the only manmade object to reach interstellar space; its title track is one of several on The Voyager that delineates the differences between moving forward and moving on. Lewis did both in the time that passed between The Voyager and the release of her last solo disc, 2008’s Acid Tongue: The new record deals with rocky relationships and many forms of escapism, lyrical subjects derived from the demise of Lewis’ old band, and the death of her estranged father.
Jenny Lewis’ latest solo venture is a difficult listen. Not the music on here, mind you. These 10 tracks are completely easy on the ears and the constitution, and have been scrubbed and moisturized to give it a soft, supple glow. The hard part is trying to shut off the part of one’s critical brain that can’t see this as anything more than a huge swing for the chart success on the part of Lewis and her collaborators.