Jenny Lewis is prolific. Really prolific, in fact. Having stamped her mark on the five Rilo Kiley albums to date – the fifth of which, 2007’s Under The Blacklight, was released between her solo LPs, Rabbit Fur Coat and Acid Tongue – she’s also built an impressive acting resum�, filled umpteen guest slots for various contemporaries and clocked up more than a million miles touring. Probably.
It was on the Acid Tongue tour, indeed, that Jenny And Johnny – the Johnny being Scottish-American singer-songwriter Johnathan Rice – set their plans in motion. Johnny, a long-time Lewis co-conspirator and solo artist in his own right, would appear to be Jenny’s boyfriend, which promises an interesting dynamic for their first full-length effort, I’m Having Fun Now.
It is an apt title from the offset: album opener Scissor Runner, chosen as the online teaser prior to release, is vibrant and engaging, its instrumentation kept simple, glossy and bright by producer Mike Mogis. There’s more than a hint of The Magic Numbers about it, and it fulfils its brief with flair.
With such an assertive salvo, indeed, it appears that troubadour Johnny has left his maudlin introspections at the recording studio door: Jenny, her timbre light-yet-compelling as always, breathes life into her bandmate, and the pair project themselves across the soundscape from the acerbic, jangling My Pet Snakes to the harmonic, reigned-in-yet-assured Switchblade.
Jenny And Johnny make no attempt to hide their retrospective stylings; I’m Having Fun Now is an album built on classic rock ‘n’ roll principles, lending it a sort of timelessness, and so the parallels with revivalist pair She & Him inevitably emerge. This is a project, though, that veers away from surf pop and towards rattling chords and massive choruses: see Big Wave, an unabashed sing-along, or Just Like Zeus, a resonating number in the mould of Monsters Of Folk‘s more upbeat efforts.
Not that this is an album made of wide grins and nothing else. While Men Are Dreaming breaks up events with a shimmering drone and a Glee-style a cappella passage, while Animal and New Yorker Cartoon unplug the amps and adopt a degree of melancholy that provides shade to the rest of the LP’s light.
Straight Edge Of The Blade, a Scandinavian-sounding, Concretes-esque serving of brooding pop, signals the beginning of the end of I’m Having Fun Now, though the good times continue into its final pairing: Slavedriver, a two-minute spell in which Jenny And Johnny perfect their complementary harmonies, and Committed, the album’s raucous exclamation point that sounds not unlike Achy Breaky Heart (no, seriously).
Frankie and Johnny were lovers, but Jenny And Johnny are the ones making beautiful music: what they have here is a commendable effort that brings the best out of each of them, and while their formula hardly stops you in your tracks, this is an LP that does exactly what it says on the tin. Time is well spent in its company.