Rilo Kiley fans could be forgiven for feeling a bit worried of late. Not only did lead singer Jenny Lewis foray into the solo world with her Rabbit Fur Coat album, but Rilo guitarist Blake Sennett seemed to invest more time in his side-project The Elected. Could we be seeing the break-up of one of American rock’s more intriguing bands?
Thankfully not, as it turns out. Like Lennon and McCartney or Doherty and Barat, Lewis and Sennett make their best music together, not apart. Maybe it’s the tension involved as they were formerly romantically involved, but while solo projects are pleasant enough, it’s in Rilo Kiley that both parties really shine.
The first noticeable thing about Under The Blacklight is that this is Rilo Kiley’s most commercial album yet. Their last album, More Adventurous, had the commercial FM sheen, but there was also a dark underbelly there. Here, that dark side is still there but even more hidden, leaving us with an album that, at times, could almost be Fleetwood Mac.
The good news though is that they pull it off quite beautifully. Jenny Lewis is one of the most expressive vocalists around today, and breathes new life into songs that could easily be dismissed as bland elsewhere. Lyrically, she’s on top form as well – 15 is a unsettling tale about an internet relationship between a man and a underage girl, that takes at least 2 or 3 listens to sink in, so euphoric and catchy is the brass-enhanced chorus.
There’s also the wonderful vulnerability of Close Call, about the dangers of the sex industry (“funny thing about money for sex, you may get rich but you die by it”), and the ballsy rock of The Moneymaker, a song whose ringing guitar line and Lewis’ sexy, saucy delivery may well send old-school Rilo fans still pining for their alt-country background into some kind of shock.
And if the carnal rock of The Moneymaker is a departure for Rilo Kiley, then the disco stylings of Breaking Up is a whole new direction all together. It works beautifully though, and even better is the shimmer of Dejalo, an infectious, hook-filled track that sees Rilo Kiley going funk, only with more interesting lyrics – “my mama is an atheist, if I stay out late she don’t get pissed” – than your average funk tune.
That bittersweet edge that made them such an appealing listen is still there though – closing track Give A Little Love is quietly heartbreaking under its electro-pop sheen while several songs such as the title track, Breakin’ Up and Silver Lining all detail the collapse of a relationship, but in that happy/sad way the band do so well.
The only mis-step really comes with Dreamworld – Blake Sennett is a great guitarist and fine vocalist, but the interest level drops a bit when Lewis takes a back seat and lets him take over lead vocals. It’s not a bad song, but you’re waiting for Lewis to return throughout.
Long-term Rilo Kiley fans may take their time to warm to Under The Blacklight – there’s nothing as lyrically rich as Do You Love Him or A Man, Me, Then Jim, or as musically uplifting as With Arms Outstretched. Yet this sees them develop their sound and mature with it – and if you’re of the opinion that Jenny Lewis can do no wrong, there’s plenty of evidence here to back up that assertion.