Jenny Lewis has a voice that just feels familiar, whether or not you’ve listened to one of her many musical projects over the last two decades. Perhaps best known as the frontwoman of indie-rock group Rilo Kiley, or half of Jenny and Johnny, or one-third of indie trio Nice as Fuck, Jenny Lewis has chops and experience which she brings in droves for her fourth solo album, On The Line, which is supported by an impressive lineup of fellow rock veterans—including Beck, Ryan Adams (one of Lewis’ regrets, in retrospect), and none other than Ringo Starr drumming on a few tracks. On the Line sonically leans closer to heartland rock than indie, but there’s an undeniable root in retro rock and roll, with Lewis plainly discussing the embracing of sexuality and the comfort of drugs with a bluntness unlike the allusions of the past.
As much as Jenny Lewis puts her stamp on the album with her strong, Stevie Nicks-approaching voice, the influence of her musical guests is clear. Ringo’s right- handed, energetic drumming (say on opener “Heads Gonna Roll”) sticks out when opposed to Jim Keltner’s pounding grooves—Keltner being recognizable from his studiowork alongside Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Eric Clapton, to name a few. And despite being morally disowned due to recent sexual misconduct allegations, Ryan Adams characteristic electric lead shreds over tracks like “Red Bull & Hennesy” with a show-stealing solo. All these contributions make On the Line feel more like the product of a rock supergroup. Though Jenny Lewis’ impressive songwriting features some extremely personal revelations (including a final referencing of her ex-addict mother’s passing on “Little White Dove”—images of ‘a mother beneath a white sheet’), her musings feel like they speak for a much larger collective voicing left over from the 70s and 80s.
The vicious circle of addiction is throughout— “we’ll all be skulls… we’re gonna drink until they close”, Lewis paints life as full of essential danger, sex, and excitement in “Heads Gonna Roll”, before acknowledging her fatigue from showbiz on the gospel-like “Hollywood Lawn”. “Party Clown” is a hallucinogenic trip from a laced apple, bell-filled production piling in on itself; “Little White Dove” with its subterranean funk groove depicts Lewis as the heroine—that is, female hero and the drug embodied as a dove. By closing track “Rabbit Hole”, she’s seemed to convince herself that she’s kicking bad habits and bad boys, but the clear enjoyment and necessity of her life remains obvious.
The dusty piano and gentle crackle on the John Lennon-tinged “Dogwood” admits it best: “there’s nothing we can do but screw and booze and amphetamines”. On the Line is an album for anyone nostalgic for the guilty, life-consuming aspects of classic rock. It’s at times glittery, at times dusty, and a powerful showcase of seasoned musicians getting out in front of rock-solid songwriting. This could be Jenny Lewis at her best—at the very least, it’s the freshest she and many of her backers have sounded in years. Standout tracks for me were “Red Bull & Hennesy”, “Hollywood Lawn”, and “Little White Dove”.
review by Matthew Wardell