From the indie pop-rock ubiquity of Rilo Kiley to the more country influenced ventures with The Watson Twins, there’s always been a soft spot in my big ol’ musical heart for Jenny Lewis. Her voice has a certain charm that doesn’t sound out of place within many genres (ok – the recent upsurge of Witch House may lose it’s dark appeal if paired with Lewis’ sultry vocal talents). So it doesn’t surprise me too much to see her collaborate with fellow singer songwriter, Johnathan Rice on I’m Having Fun Now.
Since being introduced in 2005 by Conor Oberst, the pair have worked on one another’s records, whether it be playing the role of recording artist or producer. It seems merely aiding one another over the years with their respective projects wasn’t enough, and as a result the pair have crafted a record of their own.
Opening with ‘Scissor Runner’, Rice takes the lead with a fairly simple opener to kick start the record. A tale of stolen hearts backed up with harmonies a plenty and a non offensive jangly guitar get the record off to a straightforward start. The beginning of ‘My Pets Snakes’ reminds me slightly of something The Drums might have released, but soon finds it’s place on I’m Having Fun Now’s collection of serenading pop-rock ballads . Despite the upbeat summer soaked sound, it does have some darker moments (“I don’t believe in sucking your way to the top / Fingers crossed you’re flipping me off”).
After numerous plays, ‘Big Wave’ would evidently appear to be the stand out track on the record, covering topical issues such as the economic decline of Lewis’ much loved California, and the free spending, fast living consumer based American lifestyle. With Lewis taking control of the vocals (aside from a brief contribution from Rice at the end of each chorus), this unsurprisingly doesn’t feel too far removed from the Rilo Kiley school of rock which you could mistake from the vault of unreleased material.
This record conjures up mixed emotions for me. The innocently dreamy interlude of ‘While Men Are Dreaming’ was a welcome break from the occasionally monotonous sound of the record which at times feels like it’s plodding along aimlessly – just look at the following track ‘Animal’. I, however, might be slightly biased. The lyrics ‘Show your teeth to everyone / You are an animal” reminds me a little bit too much of the recent remake of I Spit On Your Grave which I happened to see last week. It brings back all kinds of inappropriate connotations. But that’s my hang up, not yours.
The rest of the record honestly left me feeling a little underwhelmed. Which is a great shame, as I have a lot time for Jenny Lewis. One has to question the record’s closing track ‘Commited’ which sounds like Fountains of Wayne covering Billy Ray Cyrus’ ‘Achy Breaky Heart’. I wouldn’t write Jenny & Johnny off entirely, as ‘Big Wave’ showed a lot of promise – in fact I might go see them at ATP’s Bowlie 2 next week. All in all it’s a good effort but it doesn’t quite pull enough punches to make a long lasting impact. At least they got to have some fun in the process.
Words: Neil Phillips