Jenny Lewis – The Voyager

written by: August 5, 2014
Album-art-for-The-Voyager-by-Jenny-Lewis Release Date: July 25, 2014


The Voyager, Jenny Lewis’ first solo record in six years, is haunted by history. Among mentions of Daisy Age partying, bohemian flings, and space age relic Voyager 1, Lewis uses both her own memories and the collective past to move forward. She ruminates on hard-won wisdom, arrested adulthood, and the confusion of being exactly where she wants to be even if it’s not exactly where she should be.

Lewis has had a smooth transition from ringleader of indie rock group Rilo Kiley to solo artist, but she has never dealt more explicitly with feelings of loss than on The Voyager. Reportedly written during debilitating bouts of insomnia, and influenced by her father’s death, Lewis’ usual wittiness is laced with a newfound melancholy. The Voyager is a window into Lewis’ headspace, a place that brims with idealism, but has just as easily been wounded by that same enthusiasm and ensuing recklessness.

Sad-sack troubadour Ryan Adams takes over production duties for the first time and serves as an ideal match for Lewis.

Adams simultaneously brings shagginess and scope to the record, adding classic rock touches and glossy new wave hallmarks to evoke the technicolor excess of ’70s touchstones like Rumours and Who’s Next.

“She’s Not Me” draws the most explicit line between Lewis and the past with its warbling vocals, svelte backbeat, and left-of-the-dial guitar solo. With an atomic intensity, Lewis recalls Tusk-era Stevie Nicks as she wrestles a love/hate relationship with an ex and her feelings about his new marriage.

Bubblegum new wave song “Love U Forever” likewise basks in the glow of the late ’70s and ’80s with sun-baked guitars and a dangerously catchy chorus ideal for the soundtrack to a lost John Hughes movie. Some of the music Lewis emulates here (The Cars, Huey Lewis, Modern English) can occasionally come across as narratively trite, but Lewis repeatedly shows that she can swoon without losing her head.

The balance of sweet and sour is especially seen in “Aloha & The Three Johns” as Lewis swings from relationship pet peeves to more serious doubts over a slinking surf guitar and stomping Tom Petty power chords. The song even includes the album’s best thesis statement as Lewis sings, “Is this the beginning of expectation? Or is this the end of our vacation?”

It’s to Lewis’ credit that she’s able to juggle and synthesize all of these disparate influences into a cohesive whole.

The album moves from propulsive new wave to groggy folk without ever losing momentum, but Lewis has difficulty balancing her lyrical concerns. The recurring tension in the songwriting saves most of the album’s moments that lean toward preciousness or smugness, but hero worship does occasionally overwhelm Lewis’ distinctive songwriting.

“Late Bloomer” starts strong with diaristic detail of a regretful menage a trois, but transitions clumsily into a chorus that strives for the grittiness of Tom Waits or Bob Dylan, but lacks the conviction or menace to lend the story its necessary gravity.

Lewis’ decision to pepper historical references throughout the album ranges from misguided to cringeworthy.

The references seem to be Lewis’ attempt to ground the album in some universal context, but it’s ultimately more gimmicky than anything else.

“The New You’s” rambling fingerpicking positively recalls The La’s “There She Goes” and a more pop-indebted Wilco, but a tone deaf conflation of 9/11 and a midlife crisis nearly bring the song to a stand-still. The gorgeously drowsy title track feels weighty as well using the real life Voyager as a vantage point until it lapses into murky philosophizing. Even the aforementioned highlight, “Love U Forever” makes an unnecessary digression into ’70s ephemera for no reason other than a slant rhyme.

Musical ghosts of the ’70s and ’80s loom over the album’s sound as tracks recall everything from Prince to Fleetwood Mac to Joni Mitchell, but Lewis isn’t only indulging in her influences’ sounds, she’s evoking something stronger—the weight of the past and reconfiguring those admirations with her own personal struggles and worries. In the process, she’s paradoxically created one of the most musically vibrant and emotionally tumultuous albums of the year.

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager tracklist:

  1. “Head Underwater”
  2. “She’s Not Me”
  3. “Just One of the Guys”
  4. “Slippery Slopes”
  5. “Late Bloomer”
  6. “You Can’t Outrun ‘Em”
  7. “The New You”
  8. “Aloha & the Three Johns”
  9. “Love U Forever”
  10. “The Voyager”