Rilo Kiley makes no bones about its commercial aspirations on Under the Blacklight, its fourth record and major label debut for Warner Bros. Since 2004â€™s More Adventurous, lead singer Jenny Lewis has catapulted to quasi-stardom as the indie it girl, showing up on everything from Bright Eyes to Postal Service records. After years of indie rock and alt-country pretensions and the requisite networking cred by doing time on both Saddle Creek and Barsuk, Rilo Kiley sounds more than ready for the big time.
Jenny Lewisâ€™ rise in fame coincides with her growth in confidence as a musician. Sheâ€™s an actual presence in Rilo Kiley now as opposed to being merely a cute accessory with a decent voice, fronting a non-descript band. Her songwriting chops are well-honed and ready to showcase. The fact that her bandâ€™s new record is obsessed with sex and seediness and the underbelly of L.A. only enhances her good-girl-gone-bad appeal, which has certainly not gone unnoticed by all those Liz Phair fans waiting for a new fantasy fuck.
The most startling aspect of Under the Blacklight is the productionâ€™s slick sheen. No one will confuse this for the Rilo Kiley of old. Itâ€™s a bold move to try to drag your self-conscious indie crowd with you into the commercial domain, and Rilo Kiley may have a hard time convincing long-time fans that this is a smart move. It takes a few songs before the slickness becomes obvious, however. The opener â€œSilver Liningâ€ is sparse and soulful, allowing Lewisâ€™ newfound vocal prowess to shine convincingly.
Lewis is wise to retain traces of a country twang, as her voice lends itself well to a melancholic warble. In â€œClose Callâ€, Lewis innocently remarks on the grime of her subject-matter, while retaining an aloof, academic stance, but on the first single, â€œThe Moneymakerâ€, she overtly flaunts her burgeoning sexuality. Her mid-coital croon is as explicit as the mischievous guitar hook, which unfurls like the soundtrack to a soft-core porn film. Itâ€™s the juxtaposition of her intelligent, indie-girl persona with over-the-top sexuality that is so alluring throughout the record.
With its blatant commercialism, Under the Blacklight may suffer a minor backlash, but the band is likely to make up for any fans it loses with such a hook-filled, streamlined record. The kids at their shows just might dress a little differently.