Jenny Lewis, The Voyager

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 07.29.14 in Reviews

The Voyager

Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins

“I’ve been wearing all black since the day it started/ When I stopped and looked back as my mind departed,” sings Jenny Lewis in the beginning of The Voyager‘s opening song “Head Underwater.” The first line refers to the death of her father and the end of her band band Rilo Kiley, both of which occurred early in this album’s protracted and sometimes difficult three-year creation. The second hints poetically at how she reacted to these developments. “I’m not the same woman that you were used to,” she warns. If her previous output with Rilo Kiley, the Watson Twins and Johnathan Rice sometimes dug into the reality that lies behind the sparkle of SoCal life, this one burrows there straight away and remains in that recognizably uncomfortable place for nearly every minute of this career-peaking album.

She may sing of darkness, but she’s never shone brighter

Lewis rarely minces words here: In the Beck-produced first single “One of the Guys,” a lush sonic sister to his Morning Phase, she acknowledges the ticking of her biological clock. In the steadily grooving “She’s Not Me” — one of several tracks produced and played in part by Ryan Adams and Mike Viola — she’s frustrated with every side of the love triangle in which she’s found herself: The boyfriend depicted in the song leaves her for someone who’s “easy” while we’re left contemplating which definition of that word she means and whether or not her judgment involves a hefty dose of projection. In “Slippery Slopes,” she wryly embraces polygamy — “I want eternity for her and you and me” — while acknowledging its dangers as hazy guitars grind and roar.

Lewis tackles heavy material throughout, but there are moments of levity. The lyrics to the wistful “Late Bloomer,” sung in the first person about a three-way fling Lewis apparently experienced in Paris, ironically undercut the title: Lewis is only 16 in the song. “Is this the beginning of our vacation/ Or is it the end of our relationship,” she asks in “Aloha & the Three Johns,” but the song’s mood is bouncy, and the sound is pure power-pop. These are her fullest arrangements ever — guests include Lou Barlow, Benmont Tench, the Watson Twins and First Aid Kit — yet no one upstages Lewis. She may sing of darkness, but she’s never shone brighter.