Forget what you know about former indie rock starlet and Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis. Because she’s blasted off into interstellar rock orbit now, propelled by luminaries such as Beck, Ryan Adams and long-time Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers keyboard player Benmont Tench.
Just months after Lewis was born, NASA launched its unmanned probes Voyager 1 and 2 deep into space with the hope of studying some of the furthermost planets from Earth. And the images of those gas giants and hovering stars, now captured, grace the technicolour fabric Lewis dons on The Voyager’s cover. But for the Las Vegas-born singer, her voyage was one of a more personal nature – despite playfully singing: “I’ve been sippin’ the Kool Aid of the cosmos,” on the title track.
Speaking to London In Stereo about recording the album, Lewis said: “Making The Voyager got me through one of the most difficult periods of my life. After Rilo Kiley broke up and a few really intense personal things happened – I completely melted down. It nearly destroyed me. I had such severe insomnia that, at one point, I didn’t sleep for five straight nights. Many of the songs on The Voyager came out of the need to occupy my mind in the moments when I just couldn’t shut down.”
She ain’t lying. Over the course of the album’s ten sparkling songs, she manages to reflect on surely more than a lifetime’s worth of hurt, regret, pain, love, loss, tragedy, death and comedy. And just to top it off, she evens manages to drag out a rhyme couplet by juxtaposing a ‘slippery slope’ with ‘mushrooms and coke’. The music may sound like a compelling mash-up between big radio country and anthemic rock, but her lyrics betray the super slick production and the looming disasters which orbit each tune.
Look no further than the deliciously perky opener Head Underwater, as Lewis croons: “I don’t wanna bore you with how I feel/ But when the walls came down the shit got real”. Or She’s Not Me, with the super laconic Tom Petty-ish guitar riff that explodes into Lewis’ damning lyrical climax: “All those times we were making love/ I never thought we’d be breaking up/ Did you tell her I’m crazy?/ It goes on and on and on”. Want more? How about that mournful, swooning and orchestral title track again: “If you wanna get to heaven get out of this world/ The Voyager’s in every boy and girl”.
Where the former Rough Trade darling would have showered her music with cooing choruses and upbeat fantastical singing, it’s the new Lewis on show here who takes pride in her scars and is able to majestically harness her emotional big bang into one superb album. Her new goals and insights may be lofty, but her concerns are still tangibly earthbound.