Jenny Lewis Sings About the Past for a Better Future — An "On The Line" Album Review

Jenny Lewis, the child actress turned frontman of indie band Rilo Kiley turned solo pop-rock star is back with her fourth solo album, On the Line. The album is vintage yet modern, blending timeless themes of abandonment, nostalgia, and addiction with millennial motifs like Candy Crush and astrology (“mercury hasn’t been in retrograde for that long,” Lewis croons on “Wasted Youth”).

On the Line is just as pop-y as Lewis’ other solo albums, but the blend of throwback melodies with new age beats makes it feel refreshing yet nostalgic. The organ intro on “Hollywood Lawn” is reminiscent of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” and the bouncy piano on “Wasted Youth” is Carol King-esque. There are what seem to be a few references to the Rolling Stones: on “Do-si-Do,” a song whose dreaminess is heightened by Lewis’ falsetto, echo-y vocals, she sings, “make a grown man cry,” reversing the Stones’ suggestion not to do so on their 1981 song “Start Me Up.” On “Rabbit Hole,” she sings, “But boy you had me second guessing, The Beatles or the Rolling Stones,” a line that may remind you of the 2009 Metric song “Gimme Sympathy.”

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Jenny Lewis’ sings about her childhood, former lovers, and struggles with addiction on her latest album.

Themes of childhood, loneliness, and regret fill the songs on On the Line. In an interview with New York Magazine, Lewis explained that she drew inspiration for the album from her mother, with whom she was estranged and who passed away in 2017, and her ex-boyfriend Johnathan Rice, also a musician. References to drugs litter the album – “poppies” feature in “Wasted Youth,” while on “Taffy,” Lewis sings, “Just a couple hours / we’ll have superpowers,” likely a reference to some type of drug. The topic likely features so heavily on the album because of her mother’s struggles with heroin addiction, which Lewis said had a great impact on their relationship.

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On the Line features a blend of vintage and modern sounds and lyrics that speak to problems of our modern age.

Lewis’ voice sounds more mature and produces more diverse sounds than it does on other albums. There are more tunes here for her to show her true chops, and she shines most on “Little White Dove,” which thematically and melodically has a great 70s feel, and “Red Bull and Hennessey,” the driving, energetic first single off the album.

Among the many crowning moments of the album is “Taffy,” a slow, somber song on which Lewis’ raw vocals harken back to her work with Rilo Kiley and, combined with the orchestral arrangement, give it a beautiful authenticity. The ballad “Dogwood” offers a masterful mixture of diverse sounds; while the brooding piano melody that opens the song moves to a bluesy guitar sound, Lewis’ vocals mirror that, rising from a soft, sultry sound to a higher register that captures her growing ire.

If the main theme of Lewis’ album is the regret and nostalgia for the past, then “Rabbit Hole,” the final song on the album (and an obvious reference to Alice in Wonderland) is a promise not to return to those dark, uncertain times. “Bad habits will be broken / boy, I have kicked a few/ And seven days off the dope and / I'll be as good as new,” she sings.

 

Be sure to listen to On the Line ASAP!

 

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