Jenny Lewis Looks at Her Life from on High in “The Voyager”

10 Sep

As part of the band Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis served as an inspiration for many teenage girls. Lewis’ sense of style, confident personality, considerable songwriting talents, and skills as a guitarist appealed to many young rock ‘n roll fans, who bought Rilo Kiley’s albums, memorized song lyrics and attended their shows.
Today, all that is gone. Lewis’ breakup with fellow Rilo Kiley member, Blake Sennett, became intertwined with the breakup of the band. And Lewis turned away from all things Rilo Kiley to pursue her solo career, which began back in 2006 with the release of Rabbit Fur Coat and continued with 2008’s Acid Tongue.
Lewis’ current album, The Voyager, finds her gazing from afar at the path she has traveled in her 38 years of life, and wondering what it all means. The album’s title harkens back to 1977’s Voyager space probe, which was launched by NASA to explore Jupiter and Saturn, but ended up continuing to map uncharted territory until it left our solar system entirely for interstellar space. Lewis, who incidentally was born in 1976 — close to the time when Voyager was being readied for its mission — apparently sees parallels between the probe’s wanderings and her own “rocket-fueled” arcs (as she sings on the title track) from one stage to another through her life.
The music on The Voyager is indie pop and alternative rock, with a dash of country or Americana in some of the arrangements. The opener, “Head Underwater,” establishes her state of mind as she nears the big 4-0. The song begins with spacey synth sounds and then shifts into a really nice up-tempo indie pop song. Lewis sings, “I don’t want to bore you with how I feel/But when the walls came down, the shit got real.” Guess you won’t hear that unedited track on many radio stations.
“She’s Not Me” is a leisurely, bouncy indie pop melody that harkens back to a lost romance. “All the times we were makin’ love/I never thought we’d be breakin’ up,” Lewis sings. “She’s not me/She’s easy,” Lewis chides, with an edge to her lyrics that are softened by the laid-back melody with sweet, expressive vocals and rich harmonies.
“Just One of the Guys” is probably the strongest track on the album. It’s got a deliberate, march-like pace and rhythm that transitions into a really catchy melody in the chorus. But even here, Lewis’ lyrics are poignant and self-reflective when she declares, “I’m just another lady without a baby.” The line doesn’t come across as a downer — it’s more like an I-own-it admission of just where she is today, in her late thirties as the clock keeps ticking. Perhaps that will help Lewis continue to connect with all those teenagers who grew up on her music.
The Voyager is a strong album. And Lewis is at the top of her game, as demonstrated by the critical acclaim her new album is receiving and her inclusion in last year’s lauded Postal Service (Ben Gibbard’s old band) tour.
Just don’t expect the sunshine in the indie pop-rock goodness to come without a few clouds.


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