Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue

Jenny Lewis
Acid Tongue

Given the acclaim garnered for her 2005 solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat, and the relative indifference afforded to Rilo Kiley’s high-definition Under The Blacklight long-player last year, it was perhaps inevitable that Jenny Lewis would record a second ‘band-less’ set sooner rather than later. And here it is, in the shape of the seriously self-assured Acid Tongue.

Whereas Rabbit Fur Coat was a slow-burning small-ensemble piece that earned its affection incrementally, this sequel is a positively cocky collection that practically trips over its own bravado and guest list. This isn’t automatically a bad thing of course; as Lewis’s imposing ambitiousness has admirably shown no desire to pander to the indie-snobbery of her inherited fanbase. But there are times on Acid Tongue where Lewis could have reined in some of her kitchen-sink-incorporating excesses and put a greater spotlight on her core songwriting strengths. Being deliberately more eclectic than the gospel-country shaded Rabbit Fur Coat, this follow-up adds a wider range of defiantly ‘70s retro settings that both work with and against her songs.

The more energetic cuts are certainly a mixed-bag. The hilariously portly mini-rock opera of “The Next Messiah” somehow succeeds despite the stacked-up odds of its 8 or so minutes duration and the vocal interference of The Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson. The sprightly “See Fernando” sprints along with an enjoyable chug despite the deadweight of its clunky lyric. The twangy-pop of “Carpetbaggers” would have been an unqualified highlight were it not for the less-than-divine vocal intervention of Elvis Costello, as would the swooping “Jack Killed Mom” if it had been shorn of its contrived narrative and cod-church choir crescendo.

The mid-to-slow-tempo tracks behave a lot better on the whole. The moist Motown-meets-Stax soul-funk of “Pretty Bird” and “Bad Man’s World” pleasantly imagines Under The Blacklight stripped of digital production sheen. The balmy title-track and the gorgeous harmony-drenched “Trying My Best To Love You” rank equally with the most seductive moments from The Watson Twins-assisted Rabbit Fur Coat. Although the opening “Black Sand” is a somewhat plodding introduction, it’s generously compensated for by the unpretentiously symphonic-pop sadness of “Sing A Song For Them,” that draws the album to a wonderfully wistful conclusion.

With Acid Tongue Jenny Lewis is clearly determined to show that she’s in for the long-haul. Yet to sustain her muse beyond short-term thrill-seeking, a little more focus, restraint and better pacing is certainly required. That said, Acid Tongue is still-peppered with acts of greatness, which will no doubt grow further in stature through successive spins.