Rilo Kiley
More Adventurous
2004
D+



not since Ben Folds has profanity been so goddamned intrinsic to an indie-rocker's success as it is for Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis. Not that Lewis owes her success to f-bombs, it's just that she seems to falter without them.

Need proof? Two of the three best songs on Rilo Kiley's newest album, More Adventurous, are the only ones that hang on blue language. However, the real shocker is how those three songs represent an indie-nullifying bid for pop-rock respectability that Rilo teases then abandons, but not before we've had our glimpse at the kind of band they could (and should) be.

See, indie's such a good, safe home that sometimes it's too hard to leave. Notoriously insular, equipped with built-in lowered expectations, it's the perfect refuge for a former child actress like Lewis, and not just because future indie-rock fans were the only nine year-old dweebs who crushed on her in The Wizard.

Rilo Kiley's fashioned a solid reputation as resolutely indie-rock formalists, but the opening act of More Adventurous suggests Lewis and Rilo can make wonderfully satisfying pop-rock without indie-rock inhibitions, sloughing off indie's obfuscation for graceless poetry, gripping bedroom drama and genuine sex appeal.

More Adventurous seems to start off right in Rilo's wheelhouse with the talky anti-establishment jibes of "It's a Hit", but Lewis' broadsides have more in common with Bowling for Soup than the overstudied subtleties of most indie-rock discontents. Bush-as-chimp comparisons might be moldier than Monica's blue dress, but they're refreshingly proletarian next to indie's bloodlessly cerebral dissertations.

Lewis' brazen directness turns devastating on the domestic saga "Does He Love You?" a complex love triangle rendered plainly tragic in the everyday language of heartbreak, an easily relatable, entirely believable weeper worthy of Nashville's finest. Even better is "Portions for Foxes," an irresistible slice of pop-rock goodness that gives Lewis and co. the best production values of their career, full of small but memorable studio tricks and real radio-friendly immediacy.

Then, just as quickly as Rilo's real-world ambitions had surfaced, the band sadly retreats beneath indie's security blanket, where those famously self-absorbed, criminally reality-challenged Saddle Creekers reside, where a line about "dueling perspectives" counts for lyrical incision, where first names of doubtless dickweeds like Morgan and Rob get tossed out apropos of nothing, the ones who aren’t actual characters but guys who sleep on the couch and occasionally mumble some pretentious shit about life and relationships with cushion marks still on their faces.

An early warning sign comes on the “country” showcase "I Never", a stiff genre exercise ill-befitting a vocalist as idiosyncratic and individual as Lewis, who even starts to sound a bit like Jewel when she's regrettably reined in here.

The rest of More Adventurous is mostly what you would have expected from Rilo Kiley before the album's bracing beginning, only now it carries the stench of promise unfulfilled. The title track is a cheerful but painful reminder of the Rilo we'd grown to love before they threatened to make The Leap, back when we lovingly considered Lewis the Lady Conor. "A Man/Me/Then Jim" is Joni Mitchell by way of Oberst, where normals are just pity fodder for magnanimous indie saviors, archetypes that represent Real Human Emotions rather than actually act them out.

When Rilo was contentedly indie, they were charmingly clique-y. Now they've teased us with actual relevance, and subsequently found out you really can't go home again.



Reviewed by: Josh Love
Reviewed on: 2004-08-30
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