As thematically and sonically scattershot as her previous record (2006’s Rabbit Fur Coat) was deftly unified, Jenny Lewis’ Acid Tongue is a loose and lovely ramshackle update of the indulgent and genre-skipping singer-songwriter solo discs of the ’70s. Just as the Rabbit Fur Coat’s Appalachian twang and blue-eyed, harmonized soul was a heart-cracking revision of ’60s-styled country pop, Tongue pushes Lewis’ sound into the following decade’s take on Southern-stained music: alternately shaggy and slick, harder-edged and tinted with coke spoon reflections on failed romance, drugs, and dangerous women (“It’s a bad man’s world/ And I’m a bad, bad girl”).
Sprinting with a sound under which Rilo Kiley’s lock-limbed Under the Blacklight stumbled, Tongue moves from the string-honed lilt of opener “Black Sand” to the nine-minute suite of “The Next Messiah” (complete with rollicking, rave-up blues choruses interspersed with sensuous, funk-sweat breakdowns of Caucasoid soul) to the gorgeous melancholic shimmer of the quietly epic title track, in which Lewis’ crystalline wail is bathed in a chorus of mournful background singers. Although the LP lacks a unifying concept or theme (usually a Lewis trademark), what does bind the album is her consistently powerful and melodic songwriting and the sheer strength of her howling, playful vocal, which has never sounded better on record.
Despite the inclusion of the sweetly skipping ballad “Godspeed” and weary closer “Sing a Song” amid barnburners like the hipgrip, beerhall swagger of “Carpetbaggers” and “Jack Killed Mom,” much of Rabbit Fur Coat’s intimacy has been traded for pure sonic intensity. However, Lewis’ refusal to repeat what made Coat such a success renders Acid Tongue an equally idiosyncratic and distinct record in its own right. The album is boastful, vulnerable and witty, usually within the course of a single song. It may be a bad man’s world, but a bad girl’s record makes it that much more tolerable.