Album Review: Jenny Lewis, 'The Voyager'


jenny lewis the voyager
Jenny Lewis's album, 'The Voyager', releases July 29, 2014. (© 2014 Warner Bros.)

"I actually kinda love this new Jenny Lewis album," I began typing into the "Compose New Tweet" field, before realizing I should be saving these bons mots for my Album of the Week review. The Voyager is arguably the finest record of Lewis's career, which, granted, is not a conclusion I expected to derive, but a welcome surprise nonetheless.

Lewis has spoken in interviews about experiencing a period of turmoil — both personal and professional — following the dissolution of her previous band, Rilo Kiley. This notion of uncertain futures permeates through the entire record, with numerous references not only to broken relationships, but the looming inevitability of relationships that are to be broken. Many of the characters on The Voyager seem to be under the gun in deciding whether to jump to the next phase of life, whether it's getting married, having children, or simply taking a new path. It's tempting, naturally, to view all these songs as autobiographical, but they also stand up well as vividly rendered character studies, with a subtle undercurrent of reassurance.

Each of the record's 10 tracks is worthy of its own exegesis, which is a credit to the sense of personality that Lewis brings to the table. There's a sense of hard-won optimism, as these characters make both good decisions and bad decisions. This is actually a perfect fit for Lewis's lyrical style, which is alternately intricate and imperfect. Speaking frankly, every Lewis record (Rilo Kiley or solo) has been good for handful of cringe-worthy turns of phrase. I won't belabor or even spoil those on The Voyager, but every time I listen to the record, there's three or four times when I've audibly groaned aloud. The silver lining to this is that the surrounding material is so strong, these occasional clunkers fade into the mix, and actually suit the up-and-down narrative structures.

Musically, The Voyager is marvelous, as Lewis interweaves elements of '70s country rock, '80s MTV rock, and contemporary singer-songwriter rock. Whereas the last Rilo Kiley album, Under the Blacklight, practically beat you over the head in emphasizing, "Hey! We're trying to sound retro!," The Voyager is more measured, never feeling beholden to any one style. Some credit for this consistency must go to Ryan Adams, who co-produced and co-recorded the record; there's even shades of Adams' own Rock N Roll, his 2003 madcap tour of rock and roll. Beck also shows up, adding some backing vocals and producing the ethereal lead single, "Just One of the Guys."

The Voyager is an enjoyable record through and through, one that fully warrants the honor of being named our first "Album of the Week."

What do you think of the album? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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