Jenny Lewis' <i>Acid Tongue</i> takes unexpected risks

The Rilo Kiley singer works western and folk into her new album.
Whether you're on LSD, <i>Acid Tongue</i> is a musical trip. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Many alternative bands have found the key to success: They compile their albums with the formula of the catchy pop-rock tune, the song with controversial and possibly political lyrics and the sorrowful love ballad. On her recent solo album, Acid Tongue, Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley does something different - she takes risks.

<Acid Tongue belongs to an indescribable music genre. It incorporates western guitar in some songs but surfer-rock riffs in others. Lewis's vocals are at times either sing-songy or guttural and folksy. To corner this album into a label would be impossible - Acid Tongue does not represent any genre: It is a musical chef, and its recipe is folk blended with rockabilly and a dash of indie.

Lewis tests the waters on Acid Tongue. Her vocal range is displayed much more prominently than before, and she stretches her voice further than she does with Rilo Kiley. Her vocals are incredibly high and seemingly mocking in "Godspeed," and she goes from the role of a high soprano to a deep alto in "Trying My Best to Love You." Her song content is also more controversial, such as in title track "Acid Tongue," which explores Lewis's personal experience with LSD at a young age. "The Next Messiah" tells the story of her father, whom she didn't have a close relationship with until this album, when she asked him to come help her record in the studio.

Lewis did a lot of collaboration on Acid Tongue, with legends Elvis Costello and Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes, as well as Zooey Deschanel and her Rilo Kiley bandmates. Her eclectic choices are clearly displayed in the album, with Elvis in "Carpetbaggers" and Deschanel performing background vocals on a few tracks. The added voices give depth to the stories the songs tell, furthering the album's overall folksy feel.

Tracks on Acid Tongue are completely hit or miss. Songs like "See Fernando" or "Jake Killed Mom" are driving and solid, while others like "Black Sand" and "Trying My Best To Love You" just try too hard. Lewis wails about nonsense in "Black Sand" and in "Trying My Best To Love You," she drowns the listener in saturated vocals and sugary lyrics. The effective tracks, however, are very powerful. "Next Messiah" and "Carpetbaggers" are not only meaningful, but bring the listener back to simpler times without being cliché.

Reactions from Rilo Kiley fans could go either way. It is closer to Under the Blacklight than More Adventurous in that it spans more genres and opens different doors to music, but it is more unlike her previous works than it is similar to them. While More Adventurous was mostly a laid-back, safe alternative album, Acid Tongue is all over the place. It pulls off some tactics like pounding drums and '70s-esque guitar without a hitch, but it fails miserably on other songs that display techniques Lewis is obviously not comfortable with yet. This album is a good risk-taker, and it's appropriate for listeners who want to take a chance with their music or want out of monotonous 21st century alternative, but otherwise, it will not please.


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