BY EMMA MARTIN ’20
Singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis has certainly been busy since her 2014 exit from indie band Rilo Kiley. Her 2014 solo album, “The Voyager,” was the product of five years’ work and reflection and preceded by the hit single and feminist anthem, “Just One of the Guys.” In 2016, she debuted with female rock trio “Nice as F*ck” alongside Erika Forster and Tennessee Thomas at a Bernie Sanders rally. The group released a self-titled LP of garage rock tunes that are a tougher backdrop for Lewis’ folksy twang. Lewis’ latest solo project, her album, “On the Line,” was released in late March and demonstrates that she is just as much a vanguard now as she was in 1998 as a standout lead singer and guitarist in a male-dominated genre.
“On the Line” is crafted with the same attention to aesthetics as “The Voyager,” whose cover features Lewis’ torso in a pastel suit jacket and the album’s title emblazoned on a gold chain around her neck. The cover of “On the Line” is again a close up of the artist’s torso, this time in a blue jumpsuit with gold sequins and the singer’s signature red locks hanging in frame. The album’s promotional website features a glowing pink telephone — merchandise, videos and tour dates can be reached by clicking on different numbers.
The album is about nostalgia, fantasy and Lewis’ journey through the breakup of her 12-year relationship with singer-songwriter Jonathan Rice. “‘On the Line’ is a chapter I think in the whole story [...] that begins with a breakup and ends with a kind of rebirth and all the stuff that happens in between,” said Lewis in an interview with New Musical Express. “The record’s in near chronological order,” she added, implying that it ought to be listened to that way to retain the narrative quality.
As always, Lewis allows herself to be vulnerable in “On the Line,” with haunting lyrics contrasting syrupy sweet tunes, one of her trademarks. “Wasted Youth” is deceptively upbeat yet somber lyrics, like “The cookie crumbles into dust and everybody knows we’re in trouble,” are bookended by Lewis’ catchy vocal refrain, “doo doo do.”
The whimsical lyrics of “Party Clown” exhibit Lewis’ storytelling ability and attention to detail: “I met the devil down in Austin. He gave me a fuji apple. I took a bite and went out of my head,” she sings. She similarly takes listeners away in the track “Heads Gonna Roll,” singing, “Took a trip up north, borrowed a convertible porsche with a narcoleptic poet from Duluth.”
Beyond its artful qualities, “On the Line” undeniably makes for an enjoyable listen. Lewis shows off her vocal talent on tracks like “Do Si Do” and “Little White Dove” that will make for easy radio hits. But it wouldn’t be a Jenny Lewis product without poignant tracks like the bittersweet “Taffy” and “Dogwood,” which features the fatalist lyrics “There’s nothing we can do but screw.”
The accompanying music video to the folksy “Red Bull and Hennessy” has naturalist footage of Lewis and other celebrities, including Jeff Goldblum, Annie Clark and Jason Schwartzman hanging out and making music in a pale pink studio. Lewis looks the ’70s pop star the film’s style suggests, wearing big hair and blue ostrich feathers as she smiles and winks at the camera. The video presents her as one part relatable girl-next-door, just stumbled into stardom, and another part an established name in music who’s earned her place behind the mic and alongside her famous friends.
“On the Line” also features big-name contributions from Ringo Starr, Beck and Ryan Adams. Lewis released a statement about Adams, who was recently accused of sexual misconduct and emotional manipulation but who still appears on the album. She tweeted about being troubled by Adams’ behavior, and attested that she stands in solidarity with the women who had come forward. “Ultimately it’s my record,” said Lewis about her chagrin at the inclusion of Adams’ work. “They’re my songs and it’s a piece of the puzzle of my entire career.” “On the Line” is Jenny Lewis’ own album through and through. She’s finetuned a signature style to tell her story in an honest voice that’s versatile, confident and no stranger to heartache.