On The Line
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Jenny Lewis has spent more of her life being famous, than not being famous. But despite her spotlight, her formidable solo career has traded on nostalgia and carefully curated personas, from folk troubadour to Nashville glam. With On The Line, her fourth solo album, her music is classic L.A., polished production and power hooks. A native Angeleno, with a troubled past and deep Hollywood ties, it’s a wonder Lewis is just now settling into her most compelling character yet: herself.
Rilo Kiley was part of a genre-defining, new wave of emo. The current wave of low-fi female rockers raised on Rilo Kiley is just one testament to her impact. But Jenny Lewis on her own is full of twang and tenderness from another era. Here, her aggressive femininity is accompanied by contributions from prolific men, some (Ryan Adams) more problematic than others.
One fruitful, controversy-free collaboration is Beck’s involvement in On The Line. “Do Si Do” and “Little White Dove” are spacey pop songs and bright spots on the album, with Beck’s distinctive production all over them. An organic and harmonious union, her silky voice tumbles over the fellow L.A. rocker’s lazy jams.
The first track, “Heads Gonna Roll,” is timeless country, a style Lewis has executed beautifully several times before in her solo career. “Wasted Youth” is a cheerful little ditty about heroin addiction, Lewis recalling her father singing, “I wasted my youth on a poppy.” The darkness of childhood trauma is obscured by an uptempo, surf rock-style, a familiar construct for Lewis.
Lyrically, Lewis is as clever and vulnerable as ever, sharing bits and pieces of fallout from recent heartbreak. “Dogwood” recalls the familiar arguing couple, hopeful for an ending. The heartfelt lyrics and moments of loneliness are punctuated by a big background choir. “Taffy” feels like a lost Rilo Kiley track, a sparse torch song but all grown up with lush strings.
On The Line feels authentic, something harder to achieve when you’re playing power pop with one of the Beatles. But Lewis, who usually pulls off the tricky tightrope walk of retro versus kitsch, has a few missteps here and there. The gimmicky addition of Ringo Starr on drums for “Heads Gonna Roll” and rock & roll treatment of “Red Bull and Hennessy” are both a little too slick. But they’re quickly forgotten, and forgiven, by the next track, “Hollywood Lawn.”
Overall, On The Line is a really good album. Jenny Lewis, a consummate star, delivers consistent pop tracks with soul-baring lyrics. It’s a unique pleasure for an artist who spoke to you deeply years ago to continue creating compelling material. And even more special is when they recapture some of the naked honesty that felt so relatable the first time around.
Notable Tracks: "Heads Gonna Roll" | “Little White Dove” | "On The Line"