Album Review: Jenny Lewis — ‘On The Line’

Posted: by The Editor

7:30 AM. The light of the analog clock seems to rage against you as you rub the slumber from your eyes, making out the harsh lines of the rising sun filtering through your window. Sleep-deprivation has taken your mind, coiling itself around it almost like it’s persuading you to stay tucked under the sheets instead of waking with the rest of the world. You’re running on empty, but you manage to bumble into the kitchen, flicking the coffee pot on. The bags under your eyes seem to weigh heavier this morning, a hue of purple that matches the horizon outside. It’s not until you pour your cup of coffee and take the first sip while watching Mother Nature wake the plants outside that you finally exhale. The energy rushing through your blood matched with the warmth of dawn’s first glow causes you to relax, to stop and enjoy the beginning of the morning, the fresh start it all represents.

That’s how I remember experiencing the first listen of Jenny Lewis’ On The Line. I sat outside, completely immersed in the sensations of the morning swirling around me, finishing my cup of coffee and having Lewis’ voice dust the sleep off my shoulders. Her record breathed life into my chest, feeling like I’ve came home after a long visit abroad. I believe any longtime fan of Lewis’ felt like they were coming home after listening through On the Line, it being the first record from the mythical indie rock artist in half a decade. This record, unsurprisingly, keeps Lewis as a major influence for a generation of fans and indie artists alike that’s grown with her through much of her art.

If anything, Jenny Lewis has been a firecracker in a predominantly male-led genre with her unapologetic and brash presence fueled by honesty, uncut lyricism, and a warm yet strong-willed tone that spurred other young women to be unyielding when expressing themselves through their art. On the Line continues to carry this torch, even if it gravitates closer to heavier energy than the carefree attitude that usually sweeps a Jenny Lewis record.

The opening track, “Heads Gonna Roll” is laid in that almost country foundation that Lewis has delivered seamlessly time and time again throughout her career. It definitely has a comfort to it, like a warm hug of familiarity to the listener before the record truly spreads its limbs. Even then, the piano-driven tune with booming drums by none other than Ringo Starr, shows that the record isn’t going to be as peppy as previous work.

“Wasted Youth” proves to be the most up-tempo even if its content dives headfirst into heroin addiction. The track is lush and playful as she croons about the dark edges of her childhood trauma, but it isn’t unlike Lewis to camouflage her heaviest lyrical burdens with fun loving melodies and groovy instrumentals. In fact, it’s such an admirable part of Lewis’s craft to take heavyweights and turn them into something that can shine through the pain. The closer, “Rabbit Hole” also flirts with the themes of heroin withdrawal, but Lewis, instead, crafts an almost lullaby-esque musicality around the track that has the listener willing to follow Lewis down any rabbit hole that she decides to tumble down next.

The top-down, lazy L.A. rock vibe attached to the album’s lead single “Red Bull and Hennessy” prides itself on being such an authentic ode to who Jenny Lewis is and what she’s capable of. It’s liberating and fresh but still 100% the Lewis that hooked listeners years ago. It’s grittier rock n’ roll is slick, but it has one’s finger itching to roll the windows down, driving the back highways.

Personal highlight, “Hollywood Lawn” doesn’t veer too much from its title. Whereas most artists who sit down to write whiny letters turned lyrics about the struggles of fame and Los Angeles, Lewis’ ever so clever songwriting doesn’t allow herself to wade in the pool of generic and vapid complaints about the culture of L.A. Instead, she strips the city and its toxic mentality down to it’s deconstructed roots, her vocals offering tinges of bittersweet verses like, “I could get down on my knees. I’ve had it with you trippers and drama queens” that only grips the isolation and loneliness of Hollywood in sincerity because of how Lewis performs it. “Taffy” could’ve had the same energy attached to it, but it falls closer to a Rilo Kiley b-side with it’s lo-fi instrumental and crisp vocals, something that some will appreciate while others will lull past.

For being the first drop in half a decade, On the Line is a warm homecoming to Jenny Lewis’ solo career. She proves to be just as personable, if not more, with the subjects she delves into throughout the 11-track record. It encapsulates everything that makes Jenny Lewis, well, Jenny Lewis. From the quirky pop hits to the consistently unguarded lyrics, she provides a unique outlook of drugs, grief, family, and heartbreak into silky tracks that, heavier than usual in content, doesn’t ever break the dominant stride that fans and artists amplify and emulate from her art time and time again. On the Line doesn’t feel like shaking hands with a friend turned stranger. It feels like a rushing euphoria full of tight hugs for a long-lost friend that’s returned just when you need them to.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Hope Ankney | @hope_ankleknee

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