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Arts and Entertainment

Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue | The Come-Down

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Artist: Jenny Lewis
Album: Acid Tongue
Label: WEA/Reprise
Release Date: September 23, 2008

Never before in Jenny Lewis' hyper-extended career has the ruddy-haired front woman sounded so affected. Her folksy, small-town image—which has been trumped by her larger-than-life affiliations—does give way to some semblance of musical authenticity. And, surely, the majority of her most ambitious effort to date, 2008's Acid Tongue, is performed with great gusto. But Lewis can not avoid giving the slightest impression that she is straining for her effects. Sometimes in the grip of great passion you fail to uphold your intent.

Having followed her trajectory from as early as 2001, there is no doubt that the sophomore solo effort Acid Tongue is remarkably innovative as a work of art, and horrifically inaccurate as a piece of history. If Rilo Kiley's aim was once to emulate Fleetwood Mac circa Buckingham-Nicks—you'll have to thank Rolling Stone for that abominable comparison—then Lewis' solo path has taken a leaf directly out of Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith's formidable folk-infused songbook.

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Take, for example, the predominantly languid ballads "Pretty Bird" and "Bad Man's World." These songs are singular pieces of sparse instrumentation that suit Lewis' saccharine, understated melodies. However, ultimately, they simply serve as the second-half flourish amidst a plethora of misdirected slop.

Jenny Lewis - "Pretty Bird"

More often than not, Lewis inadvertently lays bare the perverse truth about the album's rather superficial motives—especially the lackluster guest appearances (the duet with Elvis Costello on "Carpetbaggers," as well as the Black Crowes front man Chris Robinson and Zooey Deschanel on "The Next Messiah"). But the imperfect sound boyfriend/musician/producer Jonathan Rice, among far too many others, strove for whilst molding these particular alt-country-oriented tunes happens to be the largest downfall.

And to purport that this record sufficiently encapsulates the existing state of affairs—amongst the subculture of the Laurel Canyon scene and elsewhere, deep in the Appalachians—is in flagrant bad taste. It is, in fact, a dramatic misstep of ascribing even a trace of glamour to a pleasantly simple, long-lost sound.

There is a fine line between imbuing a classic tone with new life and mucking it up with zeal—a notion that many other musicians, like Devendra Banhart, effectively grasp. In terms of organization, Acid Tongue may be leagues ahead of anything released prior. The extensive planning and decisions were clearly made in advance, yet the overall execution is a pretty perfunctory affair. Perhaps if Lewis had avoided the theatrics and acid, kept strictly to the straight and narrow, she just might have succeeded.