Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jenny Lewis

  • Acid Tongue [Warner Bros., 2008] B+
  • The Voyager [Warner Bros., 2014] A-
  • On the Line [Warner Bros., 2019] ***

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Acid Tongue [Warner Bros., 2008]
Like so many solo statements, this one's awash in freedom of choice--string section on demand, a drummer who knows her place, arrangements jenny-rigged beneath verses that could use a groove, and three male notables, including Elvis Costello himself. Only a talent as major as Lewis could half bring it off. But note that it's Rilo Kiley's Jason Boesel whose drums set off the lazy "See Fernando," about a secular saint who'll always buy a sinner a beer, and the wicked "Carpetbaggers", about dirty-booted jezebels tricking innocent young things into helping with the groceries. With Boesel helping, the nine-minute "The Next Messiah" may well convince you that her dad or someone like him was a power-mad con artist. But he fails to deliver "Jack Killed Mom" from the skeptical scrutiny due all songs on oedipal themes since the Doors' "The End." B+

The Voyager [Warner Bros., 2014]
After a five-year absence if you don't count the time she threw herself away on Johnathan Rice--which if we are to take these songs autobiographically (as of course we are not) is kind of a syndrome with her--Lewis's formal command remains a wonder. If terse, well-turned, literal, indelible songcraft is so easy, why can't Aimee Mann or Gillian Welch or for that matter a more attractive character like Elizabeth Morris bring it off right down to the B sides? Every melody stands alone; every arrangement tops it off; every vocal nails it; every lyric parses with just enough mystery and mordant self-regard to make you crave some backstory. But her bad romances are so nonstop that their cumulative effect wears thin. You begin to suspect that her characters never achieve the consummations they think they wish because it isn't love they're looking for--it's perfection, or control. A-

On the Line [Warner Bros., 2019]
The rare 21st-century singer-songwriter whose level of craft renders her good enough for 76-year-old master drummer Jim Keltner loses the spring inher step that made her so 21st-century by proving it. ("On the Line," "Rabbit Hole," "Dogwood") ***