It’s been almost five years since the colourful and flamboyant The Voyager and one senses that Jenny Lewis’ rainbow suit and guitar will have been placed in mothballs, as the new album has a distinctively different character altogether. This may suggest that On The Line is a darker experience but this is not necessarily the case. Yes, there are moments of tenebrosity, but overall, the record offers a nostalgic Los Angeles road trip back in time, viewed through rose-tinted glasses occasionally, but never in an overly wistful way. L.A just doesn’t do trite sentimentalism and neither does Jenny Lewis.
The former Rilo Kiley singer-songwriter has invited a distinguished collection of collaborators to this confessional party, including Beck and Jim Keltner and the reflective insouciance of opener ‘Heads Gonna Roll’ also features Ringo Starr no less, on drums. This casual cool continues on ‘Wasted Youth’ and the Valley timbre comes to the fore on another slice of thoughtful retrospection full of visual flourishes that delight, amidst luscious vocals soaring with a timeless sensuality. These qualities don’t last though and ‘Red Bull And Hennessy’ takes a more lurid approach. Trembling guitars and plaintive vocals take us on a rash journey that ends erratically with a squall of glitching feedback. The tone may be tawdry but there is an undeniable thrill to the saga in its presentation, before ‘Hollywood Lawn’ returns us to a more leisurely contemplation of the soporific qualities of the City of Angels. It’s perhaps telling that we don’t return to the more traditional indie-rock tones of ‘Red Bull And Hennessy’ for the rest of the album.
If the middle section of the record that follows appears slightly hazy in its thematic clarity, then ‘Dogwood’ addresses this with a bout of shattering honesty. The record took shape following the breakdown of Lewis’ twelve year relationship with Johnathan Rice and this track emerges as the album’s raison d’être. The reverberant and sombre piano lines build dramatically but it is the candid, unambiguous lyrics which cut the deepest.
‘Party Clown’ mollifies the mood to a degree but there is still a despondency to the narrative hidden amidst the church bells and bar room piano. Indeed, the record’s strength lies in allowing us to really hear Jenny Lewis; ‘Little White Dove’ may be an effortlessly cool number on the surface but it’s hip package contains the enigma of dreams and memories that must still ache intensely, and Lewis lets us process every syllable.
As the album rolls towards its conclusion there is a sense that these songs are redefining who Jenny Lewis really is as a musical entity. Eschewing the guitar-led material of the past for the more sensual soundscapes of ‘Taffy’ and ‘On The Line’ suggest that her model approach has shifted towards something more sophisticated, yet on the latter this means looking back to a more uncomplicated analogue age. It’s not a bad policy when the songwriting is so visually arresting as it is here and the result is Jenny Lewis’ most consistent solo record to date.