Ex-Rilo Kiley singer plays it safe on “The Voyager”

2.5/5 pitchforks
Since Jenny Lewis last released a solo record, her popular indie band Rilo Kiley has dissolved, her father has passed away and Lewis has found herself suffering from insomnia more often than not.

Cue the indie veteran’s third record, “The Voyager,” released on the Warner Brothers record label this summer.

Lewis’s new album has been gaining traction, most notably after the release of the music video for its lead single, “Just One of the Guys,” which features cameos from Hollywood starlets Brie Larson, Anne Hathaway and Kristen Stewart.

With six years between albums two and three, expectations for Lewis were high, but is “The Voyager” really the cathartic standout record that some had hoped it would be?

Listeners are launched into the heart of Lewis’s folk-pop album with the vintage-sounding “Head Underwater.” There are traces of Cyndi Lauper and Madonna throughout the track, with backing vocals and music that wouldn’t be out of place in an old “Baywatch” rerun. It’s a trend that doesn’t let up throughout the album, as Lewis segues into “She’s Not Me,” and the sleeper-hit, “Just One of the Guys.”

With “She’s Not Me,” Lewis fast-forwards through Lauper’s heyday and plants herself firmly in the year 2000 with a harmony-heavy song that wouldn’t be out of place on the same music charts that held Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like a Bird.”

There’s a little nondescript mid-2000s femme punk to be found later on the album, in “Slippery Slopes.” Musically, “Slippery Slopes,” is a lilting, lazy rock jam that Lewis settles into, comfortably, but it finds itself derailed over and over again by awkward lyricism. Lines like “I am still into you, dreams really do come through/I feel it everywhere, even in my red hair,” sung with Lewis’s over-eager earnestness, draw attention to the album’s greatest weakness it all sounds as though it has been done before (by others, but also by Lewis herself).

In a much-needed turnaround, “Late Bloomer” injects some life into the first half of “The Voyager.” A bit of tambourine and a little classic Americana underline Lewis’s foray into dreamy, folksy pop on this album (think First Aid Kit meets The Weepies). In fact, “Late Bloomer” is such a standout, Lewis’s third album could have settled comfortably among the best albums released this year if she had pulled on these influences for more of her album.

Instead, Lewis veers off into pop-rock territory with the fun, but once again lackluster “You Can’t Outrun ‘Em,” and the solid, but safe, rollicking indie-rock tracks “The New You,” and “Aloha & The Three Johns.”

Perhaps too little, too late, Lewis blows the rest of “The Voyager” out of the water with the album’s eponymous final track. An ethereal folk song with fantastical lyrics and delightfully varied backing music (a little violin here, a little Caribbean steel drum there), “The Voyager” causes much of the rest of the album to sound entirely forgettable.

To be fair, there are a few gems on this album, but the vast majority sound like tracks that would be played on a corporate radio station in that sandwich shop down the road – a little dated, of wildly varying genres and wholly unremarkable. At its core, “The Voyager” lacks focus and that spark that’s found on truly great albums.

The songs won’t irritate you when you hear them while passing by, but they won’t draw you in for lunch, either.

 

Reach the reporter at svhabib@asu.edu or on Twitter at @discoanddessert.