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
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.
Jenny Lewis appears to be content, for now, to juggle both a solo career and her role in Rilo Kiley. It might've seemed that JLew's 2006 solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat, could've been the end for Rilo Kiley. But she followed that up with the band's 2007 album Under the Blacklight. Where that record received many a critical pan for its pop leanings, Acid Tongue finds the former child star returning to the rootsy sounds of Rabbit. Lewis has the type of gleaming pipes that lend themselves nicely to country, soul, rock...hell, she could probably pull off just about anything. Lewis' collaborators on Rabbit, the Watson Twins, aren't to be found here, but that doesn't mean Lewis is going it alone. She's joined by luminaries Elvis Costello (who duets on "Carpetbaggers"), M. Ward, Zoeey Deschanel, Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, and her main squeeze, Johnathan Rice.