Acid tongue but lovely with it.
Whether its been her work with Rilo Kiley or her own solo work (ably assisted by The Watson Twins), Jenny Lewis has been hailed for virtually everything she has touched or influenced. A majestic voice, a knack of writing great tunes with melodious hooks and being fairly pleasing on the eye are all blessings that have been laid at the feet of Lewis but when everything seems to be going well, its perhaps natural to wonder where its all going to go wrong.
The last Rilo Kiley offering was perhaps not as critically or commercially well received as their previous offering but it still maintained the bands run and paved the way for a period of successful touring so heads turned back to Lewis as she took another venture without her band.
And on the opening few tracks, things seem a little depressing and downbeat and for once, not immediately Lewis like. The problem is that the first few bars sound a lot like Kathryn Williams that it throws the listener off from what they were expecting. Once the initial shock subsides, its no bad thing as a falsetto vocal and sparse backing don’t bombard the listener, merely guides the listener into the record.
Any track that hits nearly 9 minutes is going to be the focal point for many albums but its not very often they are positioned at track 3 of a record. ‘The Next Messiah’ is probably like most long songs in that it is actually a couple of different songs tacked together but there is a stomp that drives through the entire track keeping it all together. At times joyous, at times almost evil, this song is worthy of its extended length.
‘Godspeed’ catches the listener slightly off guard and is quite a tear-jerking track, held together beautifully by the fragile vocals of Ms. Lewis as the backing track quietly weaves its way without ever really drawing attention to itself. The little coda at the end of the track is rather nice and rounds the song off extremely well.
However, don’t start to think that this album lacks its upbeat moments as ‘Carpetbaggers’ starts off more excitedly than most of the songs on the record but immediately jolts to life halfway through when the acerbic vocals of Elvis Costello crackles over the song. Up until this point Lewis had shouldered the responsibility of the lead vocals and this level of freedom provided by Elvis gives the sense an extra sense of enjoyment. There is also the fact that the middle section borrows heavily from Neil Young’s ‘Love Is A Rose’ (previously covered by Linda Ronstadt) and this song may not be 100% Lewis but you get the impression she enjoyed the making of this song.
As the album progresses, the spirit and vitality seeps through more and more until it becomes simply unavoidable. The opening numbers caused concern because they lacked the immediacy, the warmth and the happiness of previous work from Lewis. An artists life can’t all be sweetness and light and it would be unreasonable to expect this to be the case but songs like ‘Black Sand’ and ‘Pretty Bird’ were slightly draining on first listen.
After repeated plays of the record, the 60s girl-group poise and grace of ‘Trying My Best To Love You’ more than makes up for this initial slow start and its easy to appreciate the album as a full body of work. Jenny Lewis is still breaking hearts but she does more than most to put them back together and fill them full of hope. It has the feeling of an album that will mature and strengthen over time but even at this early stage, it has to be said that ‘Acid Tongue’ is a tremendous piece of work from an artist with a lengthy run of success already behind her.