Jenny Lewis ‘The Voyager’ – Review

26 Aug

Jenny Lewis has had a long and varied career, the kind that makes her a bit daunting for a new listener. On new album ‘The Voyager’, Lewis shares some of the details of her past lives, from her youthful sexual experiences, to relationship breakdowns and right up to present day concerns. More than previous albums, ‘They Voyager’ feels richly autobiographical and authentic. It’s also Lewis’ most colourful and vivid album to date.

Recorded with Ryan Adams, ‘The Voyager’ is a perfectly judged blend of country, AM pop and AOR Rock.These are modest, uncool genres and they are a good fit for Lewis’ powerful but unshowy voice. She clearly feels at home singing songs in this style and the familiarity allows her to be somewhat playful. She knows just how far she can push the her voice on ‘Head Underwater’, just when to bring out the weepy violin on ‘She’s Not Me’ and just how far she can hold our sympathy on ‘Slippery Slopes’. The album is endlessly melodic and exploratory, particularly the first half which is equal parts heartbreak and enthusiasm. You get the impression that they did dozens of vocal takes and carefully chose the best one. Her voice sounds great, and it hits every rolling note with precision and ambition. The songs are polished, not at all raw, but there is sincerity here. Lewis is a woman burdened with memories who has produced songs swelling with real emotions.

Lewis is a likeable, funny and single-minded protagonist, but occasionally a sense of victimhood comes over strongly, some of it justifiable. I guess that is inevitable when you’re this open; as she says on ‘Late Bloomer’, ‘forgive the candor’. This is a woman who has been ignored, passed over and discriminated against. This is a woman who watched as a man took the girl she wanted, who calls out double standards for women in the music industry, feels strongly the ticking time bomb in her womb, suffered through insomnia and stared her own mortality in the face. She has suffered but equally she is no fool. She is the one who cheats on her husband, she is the one who ‘has to have’ her desired object and then promises to write but doesn’t. She is the one with her voice loud and clear in the centre of the mix – Jenny Lewis is a confident lady.

Like producer Ryan Adams, Lewis is self obsessed in the way that all good singer-songwriters are, but unlike Adams she’s not living in a self-contained bubble. She looks outside herself and sees the bigger picture clearly. For example, on the title track she ruminates on the voyager spacecraft disaster, and the metaphors within, and elsewhere she reflects on 9/11 and the parallels to her own miniature disasters. She is a charming host and she deals with the characters she encounters with empathy and kindness. This is someone cut open by the recent past finding solace in mistakes of her distant past that have healed over in to scars. These songs are reminders that things have been bad before and will eventually be forgotten or learnt from. It’s the act of healing and the process of liberation. Life is a voyage and the album is a reflection on the whole shabang. “Nothing lasts forever when you travel time.” Indeed.

7.5/10

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