On the Line
BOTTOM LINE The glorious sound of a rebound
Jenny Lewis has had a rough few years leading up to her new solo album, “On the Line” (Warner Bros.).
Her mother died of cancer. Her 12-year relationship with singer-songwriter Johnathan Rice ended. But these songs aren’t about falling apart. They are about putting things back together.
“Can you be my puzzle piece, baby, when I cry like Meryl Streep?” she asks in the lovely, melancholy “Party Clown,” which has vocals reminiscent of her breakout album, “Rabbit Fur Coat,” but maintains the mix of ‘70s rock and hip-hop-tinged rhythms of her more recent work. “When I crack my head open, I want my baby next to me.”
Lewis has always been a meticulous, detailed writer, either on her own or in her former band, Rilo Kiley. However, the combination of her circumstances and the ambitious mix of musical styles behind her lyrics here makes her songs more poignant than ever. And she has plenty of first-class help to realize her vision.
As soon as the drums kick in on “Heads Will Roll,” it’s clear that it’s Ringo Starr. And Starr teams up with the great Jim Keltner on the groove-driven “Red Bull & Hennessey,” made even tougher by producer Shawn Everett. It’s one of many in “On the Line” about escaping the world’s pressures, with Lewis’ cooing vocals contrasting nicely against the muscular drumming. On “Do Si Do,” produced by Beck, Lewis sings about using music as an escape from suicidal thoughts. Then, on the breezy, Carole King-ish “Wasted Youth,” where Lewis declares, “I wasted my youth on a poppy,” she sings of the repercussions of escapism, from heroin to Candy Crush.
The girl-group simplicity of the “On the Line” title track tries to mask the complicated calculations of a narrator trying to keep her boyfriend from straying. But it also captures the album’s main theme – that it will be fine either way.