Review : Jenny and Johnny - I'm Having Fun Now
PitchforkJenny Lewis, as even her detractors would confess, is a magnetic frontperson. Her alto is naturally bright and sassy, but she can contort it into soulful low tones, coquettishly thin coos, or an earthy twang. She's an engaging narrator with crisp, conversational elocution-- she bites into consonants with relish and is comfortable indulging in ooey-gooey vibrato if the mood is right. Though she's taken a more dominant role in her music-making, edging Blake Sennett out of the Rilo Kiley spotlight and delivering two solo records, she works best when bolstered by a collaborator.
Luckily, then, Lewis has returned to collaboration on I'm Having Fun Now, an album made with her boyfriend and folk troubadour Jonathan Rice, and she seems determined to do exactly what its title suggests. She sounds loose and carefree singing in googly-eyed harmony with Rice on nearly every track, as the two play almost every instrument themselves. The up-tempo numbers are sunny and exuberant despite their often-dark subject matter. ("Big Wave", for example, deals explicitly with the current economic crisis, but it bounces along effervescently.) Part of the credit can go to Bright Eyes' Mike Mogis for his vivid, glossy production, but most of it belongs to Lewis and Rice, who simply sound happy to be singing together. On the album's best songs (the breezy "Scissor Runner", mellow gold sing-along "Just Like Zeus"), they keep the instrumental arrangements simple and the rhythms gentle-but-energized to make room for their huge, candy-coated harmonies.
Though he is a crack sideman (playing with Lewis on her solo albums as well as recently backing Elvis Costello), Rice often bores in his solo work, mistaking dull, lumbering rhythms and smooth-vanilla vocals for the laid-back vibe of Laurel Canyon folk-rock. So I'm Having Fun Now is a triumph of symbiosis: She brings him to life, adding buoyancy and playfulness to his self-serious aesthetic, while he adds a welcome counterpoint to her vocals, matching her tart tones with his masculine ones. That said, Lewis is still the star here. "Animal", a leaden track that features Rice on lead vocals (and, presumably, his muddled, English-grad-student lyrics about how man without god is just an animal), is the biggest clunker.
Many will want to draw parallels between Jenny and Johnny and She & Him (especially given Lewis' previous inclination toward the kind of vintage 1960s girl-group pop that She & Him traffic in), but the songs on I'm Having Fun Now are rougher, tougher, and more rock'n'roll. The album is also a much more modern-sounding pop project, though it similarly owes its success to the chemistry of its creators....full text
RollingstoneJenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice are, by all indications, a happy indie-rock power couple. But you wouldn't know it from I'm Having Fun Now. In their solo work, Lewis and Rice are bards of the bummer, and these shapely power-pop numbers are no exception: songs about hard times ("Big Wave") and troubled romances ("Scissor Runner"), with Lewis and Rice often trading lines as if they're arguing. The mood may be dark, but the record is a model of musical egalitarianism. J&J's vocals blend beautifully throughout — sweet harmony that makes discord go down easy....full text
LatimesblogsThe heterosexual working couple may be replacing the band of brothers as the primary unit of the 21st century rock group. In Arcade Fire, Sleigh Bells and the Dirty Projectors, a balanced blend of male and female sensibilities creates the kind of buzz once caused by all the boy energy of classic rock. Relatively balanced, that is: In most groups built around such units, the man remains the primary creative force (at least on the surface). As in most workplaces, in pop music women have made significant but limited gains.
Jenny & Johnny represent a different situation. In this couple, the woman is the powerhouse and the man, though forceful in his own ways, rises to her challenges. Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice have been creatively and romantically involved for half a decade; the lady, one of indie's most successful thinking beauties, is the bigger star. Maybe that's why this project, though lighthearted, has some of the prickliness of a real day-to-day relationship. The title may be "I'm Having Fun Now," but there's room for wisecracks, bitterness and worry amid the lovey-dovey stuff.
"I'm Having Fun Now" distinguishes itself from Lewis and Rice's solo efforts, or hers with band-on-hiatus Rilo Kiley, by going for a very specific tone. The fuzzy but bright production by the duo, with help from old friends Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) and Pierre de Reeder (Rilo Kiley), has been compared to classic AM radio fare but is really closer to the jangle pop of the 1980s -- bands like the Three O'Clock and Opal in L.A., Let's Active out of North Carolina, and the Chills from New Zealand. It's prettier than what today's shoegaze revivalists do, but still a little jarring and tart....full text
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