Unpopular Opinions – Jenny Lewis Should Have Stopped Making Records in 2004

Welcome to Unpopular Opinions, a weekly column written by Flavorpill’s resident music curmudgeon and esoteric record-bin enthusiast, the Beard. His opinions do not reflect those of Flavorpill, Flavorwire, or any of their affiliates. Enjoy.

It might make me unpopular, but I think that… despite her recent rise to B-grade celebrity status, Rilo Kiley frontwoman and solo singer Jenny Lewis should have stopped making records in 2004. What better way to protect the L.A. daughter’s brilliant indie-pop past than taking her name off Rilo Kiley’s 2007’s Under the Blacklight (the most stunning example ever of thoughtless style’s diminishing effect on substance)?

On the record, Lewis replaced her everygirl approachability with forced attempts at sexiness and, even worse, seedy porn-star serenading. It’s no so much that she sold out or that she doesn’t have a right to strut her stuff, more that she reached inadvisedly (not to mention insincerely) beyond her bounds. Critics leveled plenty of all-too-kind Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac comparisons, but the fact remains: Lewis is no Stevie Nicks, Blacklight‘s slickness was insipid, the song quality suffered, and the supposedly-similar back-story (internal band drama between former lovers) was a real stretch.

Of course, her solo career is another thing entirely – it’s actually hurting the indie-music industry…

Sure, Lewis’ debut, Rabbit Fur Coat, was totally acceptable as a vanity project, an “awww shucks, look at that Hollywood girl lost in the wild, Wild West” endeavor, but the idea that a pseudo-starlet should be taken seriously as a country crooner boggles the mind. And, it diminishes the impact of authentic (and infinitely more talented) indie-bred Americana artists like Neko Case, Deer Tick, Gillian Welch, and Fleet Foxes.

Of course, her obviously inauthentic roots aren’t really the issue. Lewis’s voice has always derived its charm from a crisp approachability, not the kind of lush serenading that it takes to really fire up a honky-tonk. Her thin-throated warbles might cap the custard in a Dude bar somewhere on Sunset, but they’d laugh her ass right out of Nashville. And her snide, pretentious interviews in defense of an increasingly vapish lifestyle (not to mention a tendency to call her former band’s members accessories while they’re in the room) isn’t exactly the act of a sagely tumbleweed troubadour.

What’s worse, her debut’s success means she’s starting to take herself seriously. Lewis’s recent follow-up, Acid Tongue, (which features an appearance by Elvis Costello!??!) does, admittedly, make a leap in production value, but ballads about Indian reservations and sexual assault? At a recent taping of a TV interview, I watched Lewis fumble over a question about the song’s lyrical inspiration, offering the kind of half-baked analysis you’d get as 10th grade poetry professor (“I saw this story in the paper about an Indian reservation and it, like, really spoke to me as artist”).

Anyone know how they say “overwrought” in Angeleno?

Photo credit: Marc Johns

Related post: Elvis Costello Wears Spectacles, Makes Spectacle