Jake Gyllenhaal and I have one thing in common: I, too, once fell in love with Jenny Lewis. During this year’s Noise Pop festival, I was all set to see Neko Case perform when the Noise Pop press guy e-mailed me to tell me I’d been bumped off the list. In a panic, I scanned the available options and went to see Rilo Kiley’s acoustic show. Somewhere around the five-minute mark of their beautiful “Pictures of Success,” I was ready to curl up in a ball on the floor and fall asleep to the sound of Lewis’s stunning voice. A last-minute second-choice had turned into a highlight of a full week of great shows.
For those who haven’t fallen in love with Jenny Lewis, More Adventurous is your big chance. From start to finish, she’s the focus of the album, the fourth from Los Angeles’s Rilo Kiley. That marks a shift from the quartet’s previous efforts, where she shared vocal duties with the gentle pipes of guitarist/co-songwriter Blake Sennett, who’s also leader of the folk-pop outfit the Elected. Although Lewis’s voice steals the show, some songs get lazy and lapse into a familiar yet unremarkable pattern of country-tinged pop. With lots of ground covered and solid songwriting, More Adventurous is a pleasant endeavor, but only a few moments seem truly inspired.
Smartly, Rilo Kiley leads with two of them. Bluesy, freewheeling guitars and happy horns temper the cynicism of “It’s a Hit,” wherein Lewis intimates that our commander-in-chief is a poop-throwing monkey. The other high spot is “Does He Love You?” the emotionally charged tale of a love triangle gone sour. Lewis really hits her stride here, belting out the frustrated resignation of being the “other woman” as only one with experience could. Sennett’s guitar alternately swings and stabs according to the arc of the story, which ends in a wash of noise and a requiem of strings.
Lewis provided vocals for Jimmy Tamborello’s side project, the Postal Service, and here Tamborello returns the favor, producing “Accidntel Deth” (get it?). But the bleeps and bangs that punctuate the tune don’t really move it along — a problem that affects about a third of the album. Sennett’s only shot at singing on More Adventurous, on the warbled “Ripchord,” is unfortunately wasted on what sounds like a drunken one-take. Lewis channels some ’60s soul on “I Never,” an ode to repetition that ends with this gem: “Because I never, never, never, never, never/ never, never, never, never, never/ never, never, never, never, never/ never, never, never, never, never/ never, never, never, never, never/ never, never loved somebody/ the way that I loved you.” I am not making this up.
Still, there’s enough to like that makes it worth avoiding taking cheap shots at the album title (that doesn’t count, does it?). “A Man/Me/Then Jim” is a sadly sweet love song, and will probably end up on one or two mixes I burn this year. Though this is their major label debut (Brute/Beaute is the band’s own Warner imprint), detractors can’t say that Rilo Kiley has been tainted; this collection is nothing if not genuine. They’re sure to grab a wider audience with this release, and they’ll deserve it — just be prepared to use the skip button a few times.