Solo again, Jenny Lewis takes a hit

Yup. Pretty short hems. 
Photo courtesy Reprise Records

Image by Ashley Goetz

Yup. Pretty short hems. Photo courtesy Reprise Records

JENNY LEWIS ALBUM: Acid Tongue LABEL: Reprise Records Critics of Jenny Lewis , that swinginâÄô, smokinâÄô hot redheaded frontwoman for indie darlings Rilo Kiley , say that as her skirts get shorter, her songs get worse. The lukewarm reception of Rilo KileyâÄôs 2007 disc, âÄúUnder the BlacklightâÄù seems to prove this point; at that time JennyâÄôs hems were nonexistent, but weâÄôll leave it up to debate. When Lewis released her first solo disc, âÄúRabbit Fur Coat,âÄù her dresses hit mid-thigh, and critics drooled for the album full of story-songs in an inviting Loretta Lynn country chick vein. In it, Jenny lamented the loss of loves, rose up with fists against religious hypocrisy and social injustices, and kept her tongue firmly in cheek all the while. Her pals Conor Oberst and Ben Gibbard b opped in for some guest spots on an indie-royalty tribute to the Traveling Wilburys âÄô80s classic âÄúHandle With Care,âÄù and the Watson Twins provided a perfect backdrop for the entire album with their folksy harmonies. âÄúAcid TongueâÄù is as different from âÄúRabbit Fur CoatâÄù as two years could make it. Instead of the first albumâÄôs country-tinged mix of warmth and irony, âÄúAcid TongueâÄù sounds like Lewis has been spending nights with the ghost of Jim Morrison and crafting a record as murky as humid California nights. SheâÄôs grown her hair out long, slid into her bell-bottoms, and dropped a little bit of that titular acid. âÄúAcid TongueâÄù has Lewis experimenting with all aspects of her impressive vocal range, and rabid Rilo Kiley fans will probably hate the songs sung in her quavering higher register, like âÄúBlack Sand.âÄù This isnâÄôt the Lewis of âÄúThe Execution of All Things,âÄù thatâÄôs for sure. We get glimpses of that Lewis in songs like âÄúCarpetbaggersâÄù and âÄúTryinâÄô My Best,âÄù which features husky golden backing vocals from fellow indie âÄúItâÄù girl Zooey Deschanel, but this is hippie-dippy Jenny, not babydoll dress-wearing, heart-on-her-sleeve Jenny. It sounds like a record you might find in the deep, dark recesses of your parentsâÄô basement; the snap and crackle of an old dusty vinyl would suit âÄúAcid TongueâÄù perfectly. âÄúThe Next MessiahâÄù is the albumâÄôs piece de resistance, a nine-minute sprawl of guitar feedback and a thrumming bassline that supports LewisâÄô wails, come-ons and coos. âÄúFernandoâÄù sounds like an outtake from Rilo KileyâÄôs party-centric Fleetwood Mac tribute âÄúUnder the Blacklight,âÄù while the live favorite âÄúJack Killed MomâÄù would be right at home countrified on a Tammy Wynette record. Fellow musical chameleon Elvis Costello drops over for a guest spot on âÄúCarpetbaggers,âÄù and much as it pains to write, totally ruins the song with his verse. The timbres of their voices donâÄôt mesh in the slightest; the duet would have been better suited to LewisâÄô frequent collaborator in the studio and out, boyfriend Johnathan Rice. Were we to compare âÄúAcid TongueâÄù to the length of a dress hanging in JennyâÄôs closet, weâÄôd have to call it a miniskirt of sorts: it isnâÄôt a knee-length jawdropper of an album, but it sure isnâÄôt a hotpants-sized disappointment, either.