Album Review: Jenny Lewis, The Voyager

By Jeffrey Pierre / Entertainment Director

The former child actor Jenny Lewis— a Molly Ringwald-esque sweetheart, in her younger days— has long left the days of Jell-O commercials and appearances on popular TV shows like The New Twilight Zone, Baywatch, The Golden Girls and Growing Pains, to name a few. She was a child star, maybe not to Ringwald’s degree, but she had a good run, and people fell in love with her. “I think mostly because I was a redhead,” she said in an interview with the New York Times earlier in July. “And I was a weird little kid, a weird little tomboy.” Her bedroom collection of hats, calendars and flying chickens surely added to her adolescent quirk.

After 13 years, role after role, of always being casted to be the “best friend,” as she describes it, in 1998 she decided to explore her options. It’s not surprising that she was led to music — her mother, Linda, was a professional singer, and her father, absent for most of Lewis’ life, Eddie Gordon, was a member of a harmonica gang. That same year, she formed Rilo Kiley — a Los Angles based indie-rock band, and an eminent figure in the pop-metropolis’ music scene.

But after five studio albums with Rilo Keley, one side-project led by Death Cab for Cutie front man, Benjamin Gibbard, called the Postal Service, and two solo records later, Lewis is releasing her third solo record titled “The Voyager,” her first studio album in almost six years.

Lewis shares a laugh during a live performance.

Inside and out, Lewis is L.A. to the core — her white-frame cat-eye sunglasses stay on at all times, her Martin guitar is fully coated with vibrant colors and stars to match her painted white blazer, and her laid back, easygoing temperament is virtually undying.

Her spirited demeanor, however, is at times a polar opposite to the Jenny Lewis in her music, and especially this record. The conceptual themes behind “The Voyager” are at times dark — the death of a father, bouts of insomnia and the end of a band— but, surprisingly, the album has a sanguine feel to it.

“I’ve been wearing all black since the day it started; When I stopped and looked back as my mind departed; I’ve been losing sleep and I cannot sit still; I’m not the same woman that you were used to,” she sings in the opening lines in the album’s first track, “Head Underwater.” The lyrics, at times, seem almost unfit in the face of the song’s up-beat pop tempo fighting to be another anthem for college girls, waving their hands high, singing in a top down convertible —but, it works.

[pullquote]“I’ve been wearing all black since the day it started; When I stopped and looked back as my mind departed; I’ve been losing sleep and I cannot sit still; I’m not the same woman that you were used to” -Jenny Lewis in ‘Head Underwater'[/pullquote]

For this record, Lewis calls onto her innermost actress —the suppressed child actor rearing her head, perhaps. The way the album and Lewis dance around the dejection in tracks like “You Can’t Outrun Em,” a song about being present in the hospital during her fathers last days in 2010, embodies Lewis’ songwriting skills and her ability to modulate emotions, even the unhappiest ones. “What the Lord has planned for you, I guess that it was meant;wanted to get to know you, before you were dead,” Lewis sings.

There are moments on “The Voyager” where she wrestles, revisits and, at times, reinterprets the memories of her past. “When I turned 16 I was furious and restless,” she sings in the opening lines of “Late Bloomer.” “How could I resist her, I had longed for a big sister; and I wanted to kiss her, but I hadn’t done that,” Lewis later says.

“Give me my candor, but I just had to have her; and at the time I didn’t mind sharing with him,” she sings.

Compared to her previous two solo albums, “The Voyager” is a more mature look into her life and past; maybe even an indicator that a new chapter has begun as she prepares to hit 39 next year January. She still singing about the same things —drugs, death, California life, etc.—but she’s addressing them in way that an older, but still young at heart, Jenny Lewis. “All our friends, they’re getting old; But the girls are still staying young,” she sings in the song “Just One of the Guys,” the album’s single produced by Beck.

Lewis has her own style and she’s not running away from it. She’s admitted to setting a goal to write, “more positive songs,” in the spirit of Bob Marley or the Beatles, but she’s also not rejecting the somber tones that appear often in her music. She’s not forcing them either. “I think life comes first,” she said in an interview before the Forecastle Festival in Louisville. “You don’t want to torture yourself for your work,” she added, explaining that she will always write about the finer details —the good and bad— of her life.

On paper, the lyrics tell one story; but collectively, “The Voyager” is an album of contemplation, looking into the moments that define woman she is today —which, for all intents and purposes, is simply the indie-rock California-spirited persona that is Jenny Lewis.

Final Say 3.5/5

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