Voyager, by Jenny Lewis (Album of the Week)

This album is polished, cool, über-professional and well-written. The musical performances are perfect, the background vocals are spot-on, and Jenny Lewis occupies a unique point in the triangle of rock, pop and country. The album is great, really great. Robin agrees, and her review lauds Jenny Lewis’ varied and personal songs.

But . . .

There’s something missing here for me. Everything is so perfectly enunciated, the harmonies exactly perfect that the album lacks a real soul. She covers some rocky, gritty territory – 9/11, her own infidelity, her ambivalence toward maternity, drug use – but nothing shakes her out of her pitch-perfect controlled presentation. She is the anti-Janis Joplin – Jenny Lewis uses pretty much the same calm tone of voice to cover the whole range. I think Jenny Lewis would be my new favorite female artist if she hung out for a while with Chrissie Hynde and loosened up a bit.

So, I’m quibbling with her perfectionist streak. And, really, that is only noticeable if you listen carefully to the entire album. Individually, each of the songs is either very good or great. In fact, this album probably has the highest percentage of really great, interesting songs of any album we’ve reviewed. If my only complaint about an album is that it is too perfect, you’re probably safe to disregard me and go ahead and love it.

One of the highlights on the album is “She’s Not Me”, in which she yearns for a lover who is settling for someone “easy” after she

destroyed it all
When I told you I cheated
And you punched through the drywall
I took you for granted

The murmuring guitar behind the vocals on that one is a highlight, too.

“Just One of the Guys” runs over some emotionally-challenging ground with a jaunty melody. Lewis sings of her ambivalence about having a baby.

No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys
There’s a little something inside that won’t let me!
No matter how hard I try to have an open mind
There’s a little clock inside that keeps tickin’!

There’s only one difference between you & me:
When I look at myself all I can see
I’m just another lady without a BABY

No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys
There’s a little something inside that won’t let me!
No matter how hard I try to have an open mind
There’s a little cop inside that prevents me!

The song is a masterwork of ambivalence, and could be one of my top songs of the year.

Lush strings open the last song and title track of the album, The Voyager, and it is a great song, full of yearning and mystery and loss. It’s a beautiful way to end an album full of difficult situations.

Next up: Torch Song, by Radiator Hospital

One Response to “Voyager, by Jenny Lewis (Album of the Week)”

  1. [...] he liked the album a lot, Dan thinks that the polish of this album creates a void – a lack of soul. I think that is unfa…Jenny Lewis has a pretty voice. Jenny Lewis writes songs that tell stories that seem to be her own [...]

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