Jenny Lewis: “Acid Tongue”

I received an email a while back from an Uncut writer who’d just played “Acid Tongue” for the first time. “I can reveal that on this Jenny Lewis,” they wrote, “her father gets it in the neck, in the way her mother got it in the neck last time... pretty good.”

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I received an email a while back from an Uncut writer who’d just played “Acid Tongue” for the first time. “I can reveal that on this Jenny Lewis,” they wrote, “her father gets it in the neck, in the way her mother got it in the neck last time… pretty good.”

And they were right. We’ve been living with Lewis’ second album for a while here at Uncut and initially, I must admit, it felt like something of a letdown after the excellence of 2006’s “Rabbit Fur Coat”. For a start, the empathetic harmonies of The Watson Twins were nowhere to be found (evidently pursuing their own career, I suppose, though that album from a month or two back was a really severe disappointment). In their place came a fuller band sound, a bunch more LA scenesters and the odd superstar cameo: Elvis Costello, for instance, provides a very different, much more jarring harmonic counterpoint to Lewis on “Carpetbaggers”.

Some weeks on, I’m still not convinced that “Acid Tongue” is quite in the same class as its predecessor, but it does feel like another strong record, nevertheless. Perhaps the best way to think of it is as an extrapolation of the first album’s gang’s-all-here cover of “Handle With Care” rather than the more intimate country gospel of, say, “Rabbit Fur Coat”’s title track.

The vibes are very much getting-it-all-together-with-some-friends at home in Laurel Canyon, and I suppose the risk of complacency or self-indulgence must be pretty high. But fortunately, Lewis’ songs are strong enough to withstand wave after wave of collaborators – including (and I’m paraphrasing from the press release) Johnathan Rice, Chris Robinson, Zooey Deschanel, Paz Lenchantin, Costello, Davey Faragher from Costello’s band, the inevitable M Ward, and Lewis’ dad Eddie Gordon on “bass harp”. The general air of classy musical roistering that results is highly infectious.

It’s another side of LA to the Fleetwood Mac dreamworld that Lewis reconstructed on last year’s Rilo Kiley album, “Under The Blacklight” and one, I suspect, that she might be keener on perpetuating right now. The wise lady of the canyon image suits Lewis rather well, though her wry sense of humour suggests she might not share quite the idealism of some of her predecessors.

That said, “Acid Tongue” is hardly a folk record. As with Lewis’ solo debut, there’s a hefty debt to country here, which her voice suits perfectly. The title track, for instance, is a marvellous, moist-eyed confessional – though one with a chorus of “You know I’m a liar” – that recalls Bobbie Gentry. A bunch of piano-driven ballads, meanwhile, like “Bad Man’s World” and “Godspeed”, place Lewis neatly in the company of Joan As Police Woman, and the exceptionally rich and orchestrated “Trying My Best To Love You” is beautifully indebted to one of Joan Wasser’s main influences, Laura Nyro. It’s the showstopper here.

Elsewhere, there are twanging rockers like “The Next Messiah” and the rattling Costello duet, “Carpetbaggers”; “Jack Killed Mom”, a piano vamp that accelerates into a feisty gospel hoedown; and “See Fernando”, a formidably catchy country-pop song that could just conceivably have been the work of Rilo Kiley.

And it’s the presence of a few songs like this that may be, in terms of Lewis’ longer career, the most significant thing about “Acid Tongue”. “Rabbit Fur Coat”, with its precise intimacy, felt, for all its brilliance, like a boutique side-project. “Acid Tongue”, in contrast, is on a much bigger scale. You get the impression that this is where Lewis’ focus is now – that if Rilo Kiley still exist, then they’re far from her number one priority these days. Fine by me: as “Acid Tongue” proves, Jenny Lewis is better off on her own.


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