Sunday, January 25, 2009

Acid Tongue: Perhaps a Bit More Base?

As I continue to catch up on albums from 2008, I have been listening a lot lately to Jenny Lewis' second solo effort, Acid Tongue. Having enjoyed exploring some of the work of Rilo Kiley last year, I was hopeful about getting into Lewis' solo work. The album was getting a solid set of reviews and as the year was coming to a close, it was showing up on a lot of top "this and that" lists.

Now surely you are hearing the sound of the other shoe getting ready to drop. Only kind of. It isn't that I dislike this album or think it is undeserving of some of the praise it received, but rather that I found it inconsistent and my reaction therefore is a bit ambivalent (leaving me unable to weigh in on either side of the haiku debate over the album in Paste). Much of the debate about this album seems to be related to those who were positive about her first non-Rilo Kiley effort (they don't like this one as much) and those who didn't like the first effort (they loved this one).

The album opens with, in my opinion, what is one of the weakest tracks, "Black Sand," which is simply too sparse and repetitive for my taste. The second track is an improvement, but at this point of the disc my first impression was "really underwhelmed" (and that hasn't changed much after many, many listens). Albums with a track or two that don't measure up to the strongest parts of the album are neither uncommon nor unbearable, but when an album opens with one or two of those tracks, it is harder to get past.

The disc takes a decided turn at this point though, with the third track, "The Next Messiah," being the single that has garnered some of the most attention. It is an 8 minute-plus, three part bluesy-gospel-rock affair that starts with a Doors-like guitar riff (think "Love Me Two Times"), followed by a section that has a Talking Heads "Take Me to the River" feel, and then a section that has an INXS sound to me, with a final culmination of the song's theme to wrap it up. The song's story, involving a "troubled relationship" sets up the next song, "Bad Man's World," both thematically and musically.

At song five, the album finds its stride. As the UNCUT review puts it "from that point on, fortunately, there’s a perceptible sense of Lewis finding gear." The next three songs, which are those sampled below, are by far the best on the album and show Lewis' best songwriting ability. Honest and revealing, simple and straightforward but with an edge to the character sketches and stories, and beautiful. And the mix at this moment of the album is wonderful--with "See Fernando" perfectly framed by the revealing title cut and "Godspeed."

From there, I hang in on the strength of these central songs. The next tune "Carpetbagger" is a great rollicking tune that I was all into until who should appear? Elvis Costello of course, who appears to be making a new career out of guest appearances. Now, as I have said before, I love Elvis, but this obsession of apparently everyone to have him on their album is getting a bit obnoxious--it even made me laugh when I read Pitchfork's assessment:

The first minute or so of the shit-kicking "Carpetbaggers" is pretty thrilling, too, at least until Elvis Costello shows up to wheeze all over everything.
That said, the last three tracks are interesting and round out the album quite nicely. In addition the live-in-studio recording gives the album a nice intimacy and energy. Definitely going to go back and pick up the first Lewis solo effort and will follow her in the future as well. If you haven't, you might want to pick up this album too.

Acid Tongue
See Fernando

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