The album, On the Line, is available here:
22nd March, 2019
THIS is where I get to study an artist who is...
PHOTO CREDIT: Pamela Littky
nearer the mainstream than a lot of the music I look at. On this occasion, I am looking at Jenny Lewis’ music and the song, Wasted Youth – from her terrific album, On the Line. I will talk about a few things but, among them, I will address age in music and how we perceive artists of a certain age; women and the fact they are creating the best albums this year; subjects that can make an album standout and resonate; relationships and how they can affect the aspect and dynamic of your writing; artists that stand out and can inspire – Jenny Lewis and how her career has developed through the year; where she can go from here. Lewis will probably not forgive me for mentioning age and starting with that but I have been thinking about it a lot. There are radio stations who, when an artist reaches thirty or thirty-five, they stop playing their music. Even though Jenny Lewis is in her early-forties, there is this sense that one is only relevant and cool when they are in their twenties – even getting into your thirties seems like a bit too much! Artists have spoken out against this a lot but, the more I think about music and the finest words out there, they are coming from artists who are not in their twenties. By that, I mean a little more world experience and maturity makes for the best music. On the Line deals a lot with family, addiction and change but it is not an album I could ever expect from someone younger than Lewis. The Rilo Kiley star has been in the industry a long time and I think where she is now, and what she writes about on her current record, is her strongest work. Why is it that the industry deems artists insignificant or not as cool when they get to a certain time in life? Maybe it is a problem more common here but it is a shame that some would reject Lewis’ music before they even hear a note – knowing that she is in her forties.
PHOTO CREDIT: Wendy Redfern/Redferns/Getty
The album cover, in a way, acts as a sort of sign that she is as stunning as potent as ever. Her last couple of albums have not featured her face but the fact there is a shot of her cleavage, in a sense, is her showing that age does not matter and that she is still very young. It is something I wanted to mention because so many of the fantastic albums I have heard the past couple of years have come from artists who would be considered a bit past-it by the ‘cooler’ stations. That is not to say young artists are irrelevant but, when it comes to music, every station and outlet should judge people on their talent and sound rather than their age. Now that On the Line is out in the world, it is picking up fantastic reviews and amazing fans. Lewis has tackled some hard subjects on the record but there is light and plenty of charm underneath something a little more affecting. I feel it is Lewis’ maturity and time of life that makes her latest album so strong. I listen to her work and feel that, strangely, the best work might still be ahead of her. I will come to look at another subject but consider the career Lewis has experienced so far. She is on her fourth album but has worked in other bands and made such a huge impact on the industry. I love how her sound keeps evolving and the fact she seems to get stronger and more striking with every release. Lewis, as I shall explore, has experienced some loss and change recently and that all goes into On the Line. The fact Ryan Adams worked on the album – the maligned and controversial artist is in the news for the wrong reasons – does not add any sour tones at all. Lewis, in fact, has revealed in interviews how she felt uncomfortable around Adams and was never really that happy in his company. His contributions are not that evident and, fortunately, it is Lewis’ voice and tones that stand out the most.
I want to address some Lewis-specific things in a bit but I am amazed by the quality of albums that has arrived this year. From my experience, the best and most ambitious albums usually come out towards the second-half of the year. I wonder whether it is a planned thing but we tend to see things improve by the time we get to summer. Look at the albums already out and it is clear that 2019 is a very big and exciting year. I have raised this subject before but it is women, in my mind, who are creating the best work around. We have not even heard what Lizzo will give us with her upcoming album, Cuz I Love You, but it has the potential to be a year-defining record! This week has also seen Lucy Rose release, No Words Left. It is her most affecting and stunning work and is picking up four and five-star reviews – the British artist has grown through the years and, like Lewis, seems to get stronger with every release. Other huge records from the likes of Julia Jacklin, Little Simz and Sharon Van Etten have surpassed most of what the men are putting out there. All of the albums have a sense of the personal and depth to them. Artists are starker and more revealing with their music; willing to explore themes beyond the mainstream’s lust and create something challenging. I do wonder, as I keep saying, whether this quality is going to be mirrored with some festival bookings. This year, in the U.K., there is a sense of the predictable: a gender imbalance and most of the headliners are men. I do wonder why the same tired and inferior acts get booked and why women are being ignored. It is something that needs sorting out but, looking at this year’s best, how long can the industry look away? I do hope that the likes of Jenny Lewis are considered for headline slots next year because she would be a really popular choice.
Women have always been treated differently to male artists but I am noticing a split between the genders. Aside from a few male acts here – I think about IDLES and The 1975 – the subject matter addressed (by women) is a lot more stirring. So many male-made albums are not really breaking from the conventional or offering depth. I find the best female singers more nuanced and captivating whilst their lyrical approach has more heart, variety and intelligence. All of this combines into music of the highest order indeed – 2019 is very much the year of female music. It would be foolhardy to assume that men will completely suck-out this year but I can see this female dominance continue for the rest of the year. Jenn Lewis has also created an album that could be, already, considered one of the very best of the year. I love what she is putting out into the world and I am amazed (but not surprised) by the incredible quality women in music are creating. I shall move on in a second – as we need to dig deep into Jenny Lewis’ world – but she is this human that is very inspiring and brave. She has not long ended a long-term relationship and experienced the death of her mother. In interviews, she is charming, open and engaging and she is a definite role model for generations to come. It makes me angry when we promote men above women without reason and tend to ignore the best artists around. The passionate reviews Lewis is already accruing for On the Line should give pause for thought and, let’s hope, 2020 is the year when artists like her are rewarded with headline slots and industry aplomb. I have been scanning a few interviews she has provided and, when probed about the album’s themes, Lewis is quite frank and willing to share her story. Rather than being this very personal and dark record, there is a lot of character, story and light.
Whilst there are some great positives regarding On the Line – she collaborated with Ringo Starr! – Lewis had to channel tragedy and loss into her songs. She had to deal with the end of a twelve-year relationship with musicians Jonathan Rice and discovered her mother was dying. Little White Dove relates to Lewis visiting her mother in hospital whilst other moments address the moments after. In this interview with The Independent she revealed her feelings regarding a rather challenging relationship with her parents; how her mother’s death affected her:
“When you get the call that someone’s not well, you have a choice to be there or not,” she says now. “I decided to be there, and I’m so happy that I did. You feel their true essence in that setting, where they can’t get up and bounce. In those moments, you just see people for who they are, and they’re just like you. They are you. They’re just souls in a body that’s done. They’re just humans. They’re your parents. They tried their best.” There’s a long, heavy pause. “They weren’t great at it,” she adds with a husky snigger. “But we all have our issues with our folks”.
Despite the fact that ending a long-term relationship is, in a weird way, an achievement – Lewis noted how she had never been in a bond that lengthy! – there was the obvious heartache and pain:
“You think it’s never gonna end, you wanna erase the memory of the person, you’d do anything, you’d take a pill, you’d get surgery, you’d move away… and then one day you don’t think of them all day long. And the next day, you think of them less. And then you’re better. And you forget what it feels like to be heartbroken. And you like someone else. Hopefully. And certainly you can experience that in your twenties, but I think thirties heartbreak has a whole other level of weight. It hurts. It really hurts. Physically. I wonder if men feel the same heart hurt in that way”.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ali Seib for the Los Angeles Times
I do feel 2019 is a year when the best artists are being a lot braver regarding personal loss and relationship struggles. Lewis’ music is never too hard and oppressive. Instead, she can mix funkiness and energy but does not shy away from the realities. In this interview with The Times, she was very candid:
““We all go through it. And it’s beautiful to witness life and death — it’s incredible. But it’s heavy shit too, man. I hadn’t seen my mom in years. And there we are, hanging out, and we have the same sense of humour. We laughed at the same jokes. The same facial expressions. We were just... the same. Nothing else mattered. All that time and space, and we thought the same things were funny”.
Relationships, physical and familial, are important and play a huge part in On the Line. Lewis is never too flippant about her mother’s opiate addiction but there are moments when she sighs and feels like a lot of her time has been wasted coping with the chaos around her. It is obvious her mother’s death hit hard but one feels like the years living around an addict took a lot from Lewis. Lewis also – when speaking with journalists - states how she has not had many boyfriends so the fact she was with Jonathan Rice for twelve years was very new. That separation caused a lot of heartache and Lewis takes all of these pains and puts them into her music. One might feel like On the Line is a dark and suffocating album but it is more about Lewis being honest and never being too heavy. There is humour and light, as I say, in her music and you get this nice clash of the uplifting and heartaching. The music is so eclectic and the compositions so deep and rich. Lewis’ voice is a weapon that continues to strike and get right to the heart. She has been in the music industry for decades and, I feel, is stronger than most of her peers. It is amazing how many standout moments there are throughout On the Line.
Reviews have been great and it is clear that many people have been affected by Jenny Lewis’ latest album. I do not usually bring in other reviews – as it seems to detract from what I am writing – but NME offered their feelings:
“‘On the Line’ frequently throws up surprises. Taking the piss out of the West Coast’s reoccupation with horoscopes as she scours the house for Bourbon, Lewis taps into a droll and dark humour. Amid the sadness of ‘Party Clown’, Lewis invokes a surprising source of metaphor: “When I cry like Meryl Streep, when I crack my head wide open, I wanna be next to you,” she sings. And ‘Heads Gonna Roll’ ends on a particularly searing couplet: “A little bit of hooking up is good for the soul / Heads gonna roll”.
‘On the Line’ toes many tightropes. Hedonism is liable to osmose its way into escapism at any cost. Comic relief is a close bedfellow of total desperation; the darkest, bleakest moments in life can often arrive coupled with a strange kind of laughter. On her fourth solo record, Jenny Lewis skewers all of these tensions with astonishing ease. It’s up there with her greatest work to date”.
There is that dark humour and instant sense of relief throughout the album. One moment you might be laughing and bowled over by great line; the next, you might get caught out by a bit of searing emotion or something quite dark. These contrasts are wonderful and it makes On the Line such a rewarding and fulfilling album. The Las Vegas-born, Los Angeles-based artist has dealt with a lot over the past few years so I do wonder where she will go from here. Let’s enjoy Lewis’ current album and, trust me, you will need quite a few listens for everything to settle in. I have heard a lot of great records in 2019 but very few have matched the beauty and revelations of Jenny Lewis’ On the Line. A remarkable and utterly engrossing album from one of the finest songwriters in the world right now.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ismael Quintanilla (Getty Images for SXSW)
Wasted Youth is the second track from On the Line and begins with a rather waltz-like rhythm. It is charged and open-chested and then, before too long, sort of goes into Folk/Country calm. Such a fulsome and intriguing introduction gets the mind working and you start to wonder what the song will relate to. Lewis talked about “slidin’ down a bong” and recalling her father – when her dad used to sing her songs but now he has gone. Whether talking to her sister – a sister is mentioned – or a message to her mother, too; there is this sense that things used to be pretty tough. Lewis wasted years on “a poppy” – referring to her mother’s opium addiction – and there is this stark mix between honesty and a rather causal sing-along style. After talking about drug addiction and seeing a broken home, Lewis projects these wordless coos, almost child-like and like a nursery rhyme. Lewis has grown up around drug addiction and a home that was not as stable and loving as it should have been. Maybe she was subject to waste and drugs herself but it seems like the younger Lewis had a rather tough road. She had to watch her family split and there is this balance between innocence and this little song – when things were easier and settled - and the realisation that things have been out-of-whack for a while. Lewis’ voice remains composed and sturdy throughout and there is so much depth and nuance in every line. Her vocal is packed with emotion and passion and the tone alone captures you and get into the heart. I mentioned how the composition started life as this twisting and unusual thing but, throughout the song, it supports Lewis and creates its own story. There is an odd sense of catchiness in Wasted Youth as Lewis does not want to make it too heavy and bleak. The melody and rhythm hypnotises and gets into the bones but you are moved by the story and its emotions.
It is clear that her mother’s addiction and downfall denied Lewis a proper youth and upbringing. There is not really anyone to blame – as addiction is complex indeed – but one gets a sense of anger and fatigue from the heroine. Things have been wrong for a while and one can only imagine the daily scenes and clashes at the Lewis household. It seems like her father’s departure and absence added to the instability and tension. Lewis never drags the listener into how but neither is she pretty casual and remiss. Wasted Youth is a stunning song that brings you into Lewis’ world and gets into her soul. I love so much about the song but the combination of composition and vocals is exceptional. There is this mixture of the joyful and striking; the band drives Lewis and her vocal responds and adds to the composition. A lot of singer-songwriters deal with topics like addiction and family strife with a rather dark tone and lack of energy. Jenny Lewis injects some passion and energy into the music and its gives it an extra layer. It means the song is accessible but never throwaway. Indeed, the story Lewis tells comes from a very bad time but I feel Wasted Youth will give other songwriters inspiration and bravery when they want to talk about similar things in music. There are many more moments like this (on) On the Line. The album gives us a glimpse into Jenny Lewis’ life: the pains and relationship woes; her familial troubles but, above all, there is hope and a sense of moving forward. Wasted Youth is a definite standout and a song that continues to amaze me. I love the way she adds these wordless vocals that clashes against these visions of isolation, pain and addiction. There are not many songwriters who would take this approach and it is fantastic to see. By the end of Wasted Youth, you want to go back and listen again and again. Lewis herself has this addictive quality where she gives so much of herself to the music but holds a little something back. If anyone is new to Jenny Lewis then Wasted Youth is actually a great place to start. Make sure you also listen to the rest of On the Line and let it seep into the bloodstream. Every album from Jenny Lewis is marvellous but On the Line is particularly strong and rewarding. Although songs like Wasted Youth are challenging and serious, Lewis’ incredible emotional blend and songwriting keeps you invested and never appears too stark. Such a fantastic and incredible blend from a truly amazing songwriter!
PHOTO CREDIT: Autumn De Wilde
As is common with my reviews, I do not get the time to assess an entire album – as I would have to give each song a few words; that would do them a disservice – but you need to hear every moment. I selected Wasted Youth as I feel it is the best distillation and representation of On the Line. Most songs are around the four-minute mark but nothing feels too long and expendable. Lewis packs so much into songs and you definitely want more by the time you reach the finale, Rabbit Hole. I do feel this year will see some great band-made music but it is solo artists who are releasing the best work right now. I have mentioned how women are leading the charge and, whilst Lewis would not exclusively want to be labelled a female artist – get rid of the label; be more gender-fluid, perhaps – there is no denying her and her female peers are producing the best music of 2019. It does make me wonder how long it will take artists like her to be recognised wholly. I have already mentioned age and how there is ageism at some stations; how festivals seem to headline men and ignore the women – all things that need to be challenged and remedied. I would love to see Jenny Lewis play a U.K. festival and I know she holds love for the people here. I think she would make an amazing headliner has so has this glorious back-catalogue from which to take guidance from. On the Line comes off of the back of relationship termination and dealing with her mother’s death – in addition to coping with her addiction and declining health. One would see Lewis as this rather lonesome figure that has been abandoned, whether through death or separation, but there is so much wit and strength in her music. She uses On the Line as a form of release and therapy but, as with all her albums, there is plenty of wit and strength.
It is another astonishing record and one that will continue to pick up impassioned reviews. Check out her social media channels regarding tour dates and footsteps. There are U.S. tour dates happening right now – she is in Long Beach tonight – and it looks like she has a full diary until later in the year. In fact, Lewis looks to be booked and occupied for the foreseeable future. I do hope she gets time to come to the U.K. and, importantly, time to chill and reflect. She might want to think about another relationship and a new bond; she will be thinking about personal space and her next move and I do wonder whether there are plans regarding new music projects and bands. I shall move on and let you get about your day soon but I want people to gravitate towards Jenny Lewis and On the Line. Her new album is great but I would advise people to search through her previous albums and see how this exceptional artist has grown and blossomed. I hate to bring up age again but, at forty-three, Lewis is providing more wisdom, glory and quality than most artists half her age. One needs to pay more attention to artists like Lewis: those who have had more life experience but she have a lot to offer. She is still a young woman and who knows what the future will hold. In some ways, her latest album is the end of a rather challenging period in her life. One can feel a catharsis when listening to songs throughout On the Line. The album will give guidance and hope to those experiencing similar woes but, above all, there is that hope and beautiful bouquet that gives us wit, brilliant stories and some fantastic songs. Another stunning record from Jenny Lewis, expect On the Line to be among the frontrunners when it comes to the best albums of 2019. I shall leave things there but I would urge everyone to get hold of On the Line and listen to it the whole way through. Jenny Lewis has proved, even this far into her career, that she is full of surprises and you can never really predict she will head. I know we will get many more years of staggering music from...
THIS sensational human.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Ali Seib for the Los Angeles Times
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