by Mark Saleski
In a review of this artist, one writer said, “Oh … my … gawd. I was transfixed. Mesmerized. Jaw aslack. A pop music deer caught in Lewis’s headlights. It’s just one of those things.” Yeah, I wrote that. It was my reaction to seeing Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins on the Dave Letterman show. In truth, I have had similar reactions (in varying degrees) to much of the Lewis/Rilo Kiley catalog. There’s just something about Jenny’s voice, and the way she constructs her songs that resonates with me and my ear parts.
Acid Tongue seems to take step beyond the more folkie/country sounds of Rabbit Fur Coat to inhabit a space that draws from both the singer/songwriter genre as well as Kiley’s indie pop sensibilities. Add to that some dark drama, intrigue, and a little Dusty Springfield (by way of Shelby Lynne) and you have one smartly dressed record.
With certain parallels to Rabbit Fur Coat, Lewis likes to take incredibly beautiful melodies and drop them into slightly less than happy settings. The edgy “Pretty Bird” is a perfect example, with Jenny’s pretty voice splitting octaves while riding above rumbling & ominous guitar chords. “Bad Man’s World” visits similar terrain.
Lewis also seems to have a penchant for instant anthems. Give a listen to “Trying My Best To Love You,” “Sing A Song For Them,” and the impossibly beautiful “Godspeed.” It’s as if Jenny has a bottle of distilled AllThatIsGoodAboutPop hidden in her medicine cabinet.
But then what to make of “The Next Messiah”? This is no pop song, that’s for sure. Clocking in at close to nine minutes, the tune goes from a sort of Chris Isaak/Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing vibe to a sultry mini-duet with Johnathan Rice (almost like a modern day John Doe/Exene). With its rockin’, nearly tent revival midsection, it’s as if Lewis has an inner gospel singer yearning to break free. Dont’ believe me? Skip to “Jack Killed Mom.” Sure, it’s a dark song, but the delivery is pure spiritual exuberance.
For the first week or so after receiving this disc, I was sure that “The Next Messiah” was the centerpiece, the moral grounding point. I’m not sure how Lewis feels about that, but I changed my mind after finally getting to “Carpetbaggers.” Now this is an anthem, an unfettered shout. It’s also a duet with Elvis Costello. The chorus had me singing along from the start. When Elvis kicked in, I almost lost it. It’s that good.
Given the current weird pop culture/music landscape, I’m still not sure how the average person is supposed to get this disc into their hands. Maybe it will all shake out at some point. In the meantime, I have my fingers crossed that more than a few listeners will be frozen in these pop music headlights.