It would be tempting to think that Jenny Lewis’s third solo record is a unifying call to hope; to remember that we’re all human and after all is said and done, we can still find that inner strength necessary to take on the world. Opener, ‘Head Underwater, sets the tone (“There’s a little bit of magic / everybody has it / theres’ a little bit of sand left in the hourglass”) and closer, ‘The Voyager’ is its echo (“The Voyager’s in every boy and girl / if you wanna get to heaven, get out of this world”). Whether or not these thematic bookends are merely a sequencing accident is uncertain, but everything in between suggests other concerns; primarily, her womanhood.
As in the past, her childless status is explored to cutting effect (“There’s only one difference between you and me / when I look at myself all I can see / I’m just another lady without a baby”) and yet, in her swaggering delivery, she eloquently sidesteps any sullen self-examination. It’s in her weakness where Lewis finds her confidence; every confession is told with a strut; heartbreak is revealed with panache.
There’s a sense that these narrations are told from a place of distance, and hence, the observations are wise and not wretched. This is no more evident than on ‘Late Bloomer’, a sweet tale of a 16-year old Lewis who travels to Paris and falls in love with an older, more confident version of herself. However, when it bleeds, The Voyager bleeds regret, as on ‘She’s Not Me’, a 80s pop tune from the Cyndi Lauper songbook, as she reflects her own relationship sabotage, and the “easy”-going girl who replaced her. Again, babies emerge (“Heard she’s having your baby / and everything’s so amazing”) and the sense that “history repeats” (“It goes on and on”) resonates a typically Lewis-esque melancholy; without tears and always moving on.
Its companion piece is ‘Head Underwater’ and soon these pairings begin to appear throughout. ‘You Can’t Outrun Em’ is possibly the best Stevie Nicks impression this reviewer has heard, and it’s sister, ‘Aloha & The Three Johns’, is even better, full of brilliant witticisms. When she imitates, Lewis is does it well.
While there isn’t a heart-wrencher like ‘A Man/Me/Then Jim’ (More Adventurous) or an exposition like ‘A Better Son/Daughter’ (The Execution Of All Things), neither of those records, as good as they are, have The Voyager’s consistency. There are few missteps, and only the unmoving ‘Love U Forever’ really misses the mark, while ‘Late Bloomer’ is a little empty. Every other song reminds us what a truly great songwriter Jenny Lewis is. Her ear for melody is effortless and this lightness of touch seems an appropriate partner to her acerbic tongue. Pop with a bite.
Words: Pete David