It wasn’t obvious at first that Blacklight was the end of RK, but when Jenny Lewis followed it with another solo record and then forming Jenny & Johnny, I despited. Her soulful, alt-country Rabbit Fur Coat and and Acid Tongue were both solid, objectively good records, but they didn’t have the magic alchemy of Rilo Kiley for me.
I chalked up all the propulsive catchiness, killer riffs, and Fleetwood Mac overtones to Lewis’s RK co-writer Blake Sennet and kept Under The Blacklight in my heavy rotation.
Thus, I wasn’t paying all that much attention when Jenny Lewis dropped her lead single for The Voyager, “Just One of the Guys,” in 2014. It had a clever, star-studded video and still had the alt-countryish tinge. I’d buy the LP out of dedication, but it wouldn’t fill the Rilo Kiley shaped hole in my listening habits.
Then, I heard the first song on the LP, “Head Underwater” and understood that I was completely wrong about everything.
I’m not the same woman
That you were used to
I put my head underwater baby,
I threw my clothes away in the trash
Somehow “Head Underwater” does almost everything that Under the Blacklight does in a single song in a tenth of the time. It accelerates from the soulful sunny pop of “Silver Linings,” passing the wistfulness of “When The Angels Hung Around” on its way to the breezy 80s Fleetwood Mac of “Dreams.” I half expect a sweep of wind chimes every time she says “magic.”
(I particularly love this live version because you can appreciate Lewis’s uncannily perfect voice, which rings clearly and powerfully like a church bell. It’s hard to believe she is singing this live.)
“Head Underwater” gives me crazy rollercoaster feelings in my stomach every time I hear it. I swing from euphoria to nostalgia to grief and back again. I feel the low click of a ticking clock suffocating me like a lungful of water.
It turns out that Jenny Lewis was capable of all of Rilo Kiley’s many sonic references all on her own. They’re a part of the same continuum as her alt-country leanings. When she was in Rilo Kiley there was no point in her recording yet more RK-sounding songs for her solo efforts. Seven years down the line, some of those songs were looking for an outlet and found it in The Voyager.
There’s a little bit of magic
Everybody has it
There’s a little bit of sand left in the hourglass
The Voyager doesn’t have the booty-shaking elements of “Moneymaker” or “Breakin’ Up.” That’s part of the the titular voyage of the album. Blacklight was written around the time Jenny Lewis turned 30, and Voyager as she neared 40. She’s in the same reflective, cutting mood she was on Blacklight, but instead of reveling in the power of youth and sex she’s describing just how differently women (even mega-talented rock star women) are treated as they drift through the uncanny landscape of a childless middle age filled with the same ambition they had in their 20s.
That’s why “One of the Guys” – catchy, but not the best song on the LP – was the lead single. The same reason “Moneymaker” was the lead single on Blacklight.
Because it was the thesis statement.