To be honest, the success of Rilo Kiley has been pretty bewildering to me up ’til now. Much as I liked Jenny Lewis‘ country solo album, “Rabbit Fur Coat”, I never grasped the appeal of her band. For all her likeable LA snarkiness, their music always sounded like a grey jangle; as if the American mainstream had embraced, what, The Sundays maybe, as the future of music. Quite strange, but in quite a dull way.
For the past couple of weeks, though, I’ve been hammering their new album, “Under The Blacklight”, and now I understand. Not that, unless my memory is playing tricks on me, “Under The Blacklight” sounds much like Rilo Kiley’s previous records. Instead, it’s a bright, wry confection that resembles a clever indie kid’s fantasy of LA pop music. Maybe you’ve never been to California, maybe you can’t drive, maybe you’re being a touch ironic, but surely this is the sort of record you should listen to while you’re motoring along the Pacific Coast Highway?
Jenny Lewis, it transpires, is tremendously good at this sort of thing. “Under The Blacklight” is one of those albums which is simultaneously knowing and celebratory. She doesn’t have indie guilt, exactly, but she’s clearly smart enough to see the richness and the absurdities of her hometown and its signature pop sound.
There are vague hints of sleaze and misdemeanour amongst the silvery disco guitars, the dry, finickety funk. “Dreamworld”, as you’d imagine, is a Fleetwood Mac homage lustrous enough to sit on “Tango In The Night”, though the gently subversive Lewis contrives to sound more like Lindsey Buckingham than Stevie Nicks.
And beneath the precision gloss, each listen reveals a few odd things. “Close Call” is one of Lewis’ elaborate, compelling narratives, which begins “She Was Born On Brighton Pier”, while the guitars chime insouciantly in weird homage to The Stone Roses and “I Wanna Be Adored”. There are little melodic echoes of things I don’t like that much throughout: “Amazing Grace” on “Silver Lining”; “La Isla Bonita” on “Dejalo”; Rainbow‘s “Since You Been Gone” on “Breakin’ Up”. But these vague allusions help to make “Under The Blacklight” sound instantly familiar and ready for the charts – or at least an indie idea of what the charts should be.
“Breakin’ Up” is especially great, a brash and liberated song about separation with a chorus of, “Oh, it feels good to be free,” that at once feels euphoric and calculated. It occurs to me, though, with the American mainstream’s current indie fetish (for the Arcade Fire, Modest Mouse, The Shins et al) that Rilo Kiley might have made a theoretically commercial record at precisely the wrong time. Be interesting to see how this one pans out. . .