Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Devolution of J. Lewis

There's nothing worse than a crush that's gone south. I mean, okay: yes. There are plenty of things worse than suddenly becoming irritated by someone you formerly thought was cool. Silly haircuts. The interminable Toronto mayoral race. Fall allergies masquerading as colds, or maybe vice versa, so you end up standing in the middle of the drugstore, besnotted and sick, with a box of Allertin in one hand and a pack of SinuFix in the other, praying to god that you don't accidentally end up dosing yourself with some toxic combination of pseudoephedrine and green tea when all you want to do is curl up under the Family Planning display and take a quick restorative nap.

But I've been finding lately that a certain brand of irritation is creeping into my soul. In addition to being very fond of crushing on dudes, I am the master of the girl crush - I love finding fancy ladies to admire. Some of my girl crushes, however, are morphing into something else. Something sinister. Something...lame.

To wit: Jenny Lewis. Her dossier reads like a hipster dream. She was a child actress in the 1980s, starring in gems like The Wizard, which prominently featured the much-derided Nintendo power glove, and Troop Beverly Hills, which seems to be in the youth-romp genre, much like Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead and other flicks featuring roving gangs of smart-mouthed children. She graduated with honours to the actress/musician program at the University of Hollywood, fronting her band Rilo Kiley. They were the darlings of the indie-pop scene for a while, and she's collaborated Ben "The Postal Service" Gibbard and Conor "Bright Eyes" Oberst. Her solo work, especially Rabbit Fur Coat, the 2007 album she did with the Watson Twins, has been widely critically approved, and she's indisputably a total fox.

But then her last solo album was sort of...blah. And now her newest project isn't great. It's a collaboration with her boyfriend of a few years, a mister Johnathan Rice. (If you're into movie stars, he played Roy Orbison in Walk the Line) Along the line somewhere, my total crush on Jenny Lewis sort of withered. They say love hath no fury like a woman scorned, but that's not totally true. There's nothing quite so terrible as someone you once admired emerging as pedestrian.

It's not that I've had the scales fall from my eyes or anything. When I listen to her first solo album, it's a good album. It's musical, it's fun, it's good listening. She covers a Traveling Wilburys tune; if you don't love that, you're dead inside. But this new thing, this Jenny and Johnny stuff? It's one thing to have a sound. It's sort of your calling card as an artist, actually. Lewis's lyrics are thoughtful and her music, while not especially complex, was interesting. This collaborative work is more like mid-tempo 1970s fuzzy stoner beach music. It sounds like the interstitial music for a one-season sitcom about, like, a straightlaced insurance salesman who's forced to join a groovy hippie commune and learn some life lessons in the process, man. Hummable, forgettable, tunes.

I hate that. I'm all for artistic changes, but unless you're Devo, shouldn't you be getting, I don't know, better? This happens all the time: creative folks blow their artistic load in their first few albums, books, gallery shows, clothing lines, movies, or TV shows, and you're left with a devoted fan base who don't have anything worthy of their devotion. I'll let my feminist leanings come out and say that it's especially tough for ladies to get their work out there in the first place: how many female directors have won Oscars? How many broads hang their work in big-name museums? How many female writers get included on course curricula? So to witness a big, shiny beginning and then a slow descent into mediocrity is especially maddening. We know you can do better...why produce something halfhearted?

Anyway, I like Jenny Lewis and I like music, so I bought her and her bf's album, and I'll be going to their show, but I'm just kind of blue. My girl crush is fading, and even though she's still hot and talented and interesting, this album is blah and uninspiring. I miss the old Lewis, the asskicker who sang about crappy threesomes and who would strut around stage and pound on the piano. Now we get this sedated, fuzzy version of rocking out, and I gotta say, I prefer my girl crushes to have some cojones. Not in a freaky, Thai-sex-tourist sort of way, but come on. What would you prefer: this aching, bitter-sweet secret teller, or this glorified backup singer? That's what I thought.

No comments:

Post a Comment