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REVIEW: Jenny Lewis – ‘On The Line’ (WEA)


In a sentence:

The first album from former Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis in five years, ‘On The Line’ is an immersive break-up album with a polished surface of nostalgia.

On The Line is an album that feels effortless and strikingly vulnerable, the kind of album that the phrase ‘emotional rollercoaster’ is often applied to but doesn’t do justice. Lyrically, it’s as disconcerted as it is refined, deceptively simple yet obviously more complex than what is offered on the surface. It has the kind of balance that can only be created by an extremely versatile storyteller like Jenny Lewis. In this album’s complexity, her 20 years of experience as a musician and songwriter is reflected. On The Line is Lewis’ fourth solo album, and a follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2014 album The Voyager. The downbeat indie-rock sound which was adopted by her former band Rilo Kiley carries through into On The Line, but also hints of blues and country bleed through the tracks.

The sultry instrumentation of On The Line is created by a star-studded backing band, featuring big names such as Beck, Benmont Tench, Don Was, Jim Keltner, Ringo Starr, and the newly-disgraced Ryan Adams.On first listen, this simply becomes background information, as what really strikes through on the 47 minutes of the album is Lewis’ ability to create vivid imagery. Her song writing is witty, and is elusive enough to spark curiosity, but engaging to a point where pondering the details of the story distracts you from what is being unveiled.

This is clearest on the track ‘Wasted Youth’ which alludes towards addiction but is strikingly jolly, almost as if to suggest her helplessness and the blasé attitude one has to adopt to confront these feelings. Her sharp lyrics carry this message further: “The cookie crumbles into dust / And everybody knows we’re in trouble”. Closing track ‘Rabbit Hole’ uses a similar tactic, the track is pure sugary indie-pop yet slowly reveals itself to be a complex dialogue about self-awareness and the act catching yourself on the cusp of continuing bad habits. The album’s first single ‘Red Bull & Hennessy’ is an up-tempo, bluesy break-up song. Lewis croons the catchy hook “I wanna ride with you” on a bed of skipping guitar and a thudding drum rhythm. Her lyrics hint towards emotional spiralling, and for her partner.

Then there’s the compelling opening track, ‘Heads Gonna Roll’ which is a slow-burning, country-tinged ballad, enhanced with soulful strings and tinkling pianos. Lewis gives a poignant, mesmerising vocal performance, and the song has a deep, complex texture which reflects the difficult emotions in the story she tells. ‘Party Clown’ then shows she can work with simplicity, she sings on a stripped-back instrumental with scaling, jangly pianos and gives us a catchy chorus.

Each of the 11 self-written track, provide a deeply complex yet playful narrative. Jenny Lewis hints at autobiographical events, but leaves scope for the listener to insert their personal tales into her emotional performances. On the track ‘Dogwood’, we are presented with the tale of a difficult, irredeemable relationship. The song sashays between a louder, busier arrangements and a timid, quieter arrangement. In the quieter side, Lewis’ vocals are close to a whisper, which makes the song feel as if it pronounces the volatile nature of the relationship in its variation. There’s space for every listener to relate to Lewis’ pain.

It’s difficult to not be invested in the tale of hedonism, despair and self-awareness presented before you on this album. On The Line is a deeply refreshing listen which invokes the intense passion, followed by the suspense of a television drama all through the form of Jenny Lewis’ compelling storytelling and a slick choice of instrumental arrangements. (7/10) (Benita Barden)

Listen to On The Line by Jenny Lewis here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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