RILO KILEY > Under the Blacklight

When the sweaty bump-and-grind of “The Moneymaker,” Rilo Kiley’s first single in two years, hit cyberspace this spring, some fans of the indie rockers feared the worst-particularly those whose interests lay primarily on the “indie” side of the equation. The song’s slicked-up, carnal melodrama, coupled with the news that Rilo’s upcoming Warner Brothers album had been made with mainstream-minded producers Jason Lader and Mike Elizondo, earned a mixed reception from the band’s diehard supporters. Was Jenny Lewis, who fronts this L.A. four-piece, pulling a Liz Phair?

Label: WARNER BROS
[Rating: 3]

When the sweaty bump-and-grind of “The Moneymaker,” Rilo Kiley’s first single in two years, hit cyberspace this spring, some fans of the indie rockers feared the worst-particularly those whose interests lay primarily on the “indie” side of the equation. The song’s slicked-up, carnal melodrama, coupled with the news that Rilo’s upcoming Warner Brothers album had been made with mainstream-minded producers Jason Lader and Mike Elizondo, earned a mixed reception from the band’s diehard supporters. Was Jenny Lewis, who fronts this L.A. four-piece, pulling a Liz Phair?

One thing’s for sure: Under the Blacklight will put an end to the Neko Case comparisons Lewis has drawn since last year’s Rabbit Fur Coat, her side project heavy on pedal steel whine and acoustic twang. The new album throws all that-as well as most of the chiming, singer/songwriterly rock of Rilo’s last album proper, More Adventurous-out the window, focusing instead on a willfully goofy mix of ‘80s-influenced styles that favor simplicity over nuance, repetition over storytelling, and piercing, radio-processed drums over, well, everything. Lewis sounds downright gleeful to be writing straightforward (if lyrically quirky) pop tunes; the songs all carry big, undemanding hooks and bombastic choruses that arrive just when you expect them to.

The shift in sound is in service to what seems to be the disc’s loose thematic concern: sex, and not pretty sex, but the kind proffered up by porn stars, strippers, and one-night stands. “Close Call,” a guitar-based rocker that’s as close to the band’s old sound as Blacklight gets, is a brief sketch of a prostitute “born on a Brighton pier/to a gypsy mother in a bucket of tears,” while “15” chronicles the meeting of a Web-surfing stoner and his underage date. Elsewhere, the subject matter turns to good love gone bad (“Give A Little Love”) and bad love just plain gone (“Breakin’ Up”), and it so happens that those two tracks are the ones most likely to push away listeners who want their old band back.  On the latter, a disco beat, synthesized strings, and Lewis’ light, airy vocals combine to channel The Cardigans’ “Lovefool,” while the former is a trebly throwaway pushed along by the slightest of keyboard melodies over a faux-handclap contemporary r&b pulse.

When it works, Under the Blacklight makes for addictive ear candy. “The Angels Hung Around” fetishizes that moment when glossy country-pop first hit the airwaves, Lewis doing her best Juice Newton impression as the band, all pleasantly predictable I-IV-V and foursquare percussion, parties like it’s 1981. And “Smoke Detector,” with Blake Sennett’s garage-rock guitars and multi-tracked vocals, is perfect power pop that could have come straight off that Matthew Sweet/Susanna Hoffs covers record. Listen to the Madonna-circa-1986 sound of “Dejalo,” though, and you can’t help wondering whether Rilo Kiley really thinks there’s an audience for a sleaze-obsessed record that veers so close to teen-pop musical idioms. But perhaps that’s the joke: maybe Lewis and her merry band of indie rockers aim to show the Spears/Aguilera crowd the highs and lows of real debauchery. Under the Blacklight is too sugary to fully explore that subject, but in its own gauzy, offhand way, it has charms that go beyond standard-issue indie earnestness. There is craft here, even if it’s more popcraft than songcraft.



4 Comments

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

JOSE GONZALEZ > In Our Nature

LEGENDS OF THE CHELSEA HOTEL > Living With the Artists and Outlaws of New York’s Rebel Mecca by Ed Hamilton