Nobody likes saying anything negative about Jenny Lewis. She’s never released a bad album and has generally been a very prolific singer/songwriter, pumping out albums every couple of years — if not more often — for well over a decade now. Until recently, that is. Her new solo album, The Voyager, comes six years after her 2008 release Acid Tongue and took five years to write. Now we’ve arrived at the point where we can’t call her prolific or, as it turns out, brilliant. So, you might not want to say anything negative about Jenny and it’s easy enough to tip-toe around it, but the fact of the matter is that this is the only mediocre album she’s ever made. It could have been a lot worse, absolutely, but it’s certainly not nearly as good as her previous output either. Perhaps the best thing you can say about it is also the worst: it’s a grower.
“Is this the beginning of our vacation / Or is this the end of our relationship,” Jenny sings during “Aloha & The Three Johns,” one of seven tracks produced by Ryan Adams. The song is the album’s most amusing track, but those particular lyrics stand out for all the wrong reasons for fans who eagerly awaited this record for several years.
The problem with The Voyager that it’s just plain dull. Lyrically, it’s better than most albums released this year, Jenny still having her knack for penning witty lyrics that are often sarcastic and frequently brutally honest. Trouble is, the music is the stuff of ’70’s AM rock. If that’s your cup of tea, you’re inclined to love feasting your ears on this. But if you like the Jenny Lewis who took indie pop/rock in several or more different directions with Rilo Kiley, a band that kept getting better and better all the time, you’re inclined to deem this too safe. Where are the up-tempo, energetic tunes like Acid Tongue’s “Carpetbaggers” and Rilo Kiley’s “Dejalo”? Where are the precious ballads like Acid Tongue’s “Pretty Bird” and “Black Sand”? If you listen to those records again then listen to The Voyager you’re bound to feel like she played it too safe — too straight and narrow — here.
“There’s a little bit of magic / Everybody has it / There’s a little bit of sand left in the hour glass,” she sings during opener “Head Underwater” and you can’t help but wonder if this is Jenny with the sand finally running out in her hour glass. Of course, that’s probably not the case, but we’ll all feel more at ease about that after she releases her next album, which should easily be better than this one, hopefully sooner than later. After all, if she releases another stellar record like Acid Tongue next year, we’ll all be able to look back on The Voyager and laugh. At that point the record will simply be what it is — one of many — and the weight of it will have been alleviated. But until we get the next record and hear proof that her mojo isn’t gone, one is inclined to worry.