REVIEW: Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight, Warner Bros.

Posted August 31st, 2007 by eric · No Comments

Rilo Kiley makes no bones about its commercial aspirations on Under the Blacklight, its fourth record and major label debut for Warner Bros. Since 2004’s More Adventurous, lead singer Jenny Lewis has catapulted to quasi-stardom as the indie it girl, showing up on everything from Bright Eyes to Postal Service records. After years of indie rock and alt-country pretensions and the requisite networking cred by doing time on both Saddle Creek and Barsuk, Rilo Kiley sounds more than ready for the big time.

Jenny Lewis’ rise in fame coincides with her growth in confidence as a musician. She’s an actual presence in Rilo Kiley now as opposed to being merely a cute accessory with a decent voice, fronting a non-descript band. Her songwriting chops are well-honed and ready to showcase. The fact that her band’s new record is obsessed with sex and seediness and the underbelly of L.A. only enhances her good-girl-gone-bad appeal, which has certainly not gone unnoticed by all those Liz Phair fans waiting for a new fantasy fuck.

The most startling aspect of Under the Blacklight is the production’s slick sheen. No one will confuse this for the Rilo Kiley of old. It’s a bold move to try to drag your self-conscious indie crowd with you into the commercial domain, and Rilo Kiley may have a hard time convincing long-time fans that this is a smart move. It takes a few songs before the slickness becomes obvious, however. The opener “Silver Lining” is sparse and soulful, allowing Lewis’ newfound vocal prowess to shine convincingly.

Lewis is wise to retain traces of a country twang, as her voice lends itself well to a melancholic warble. In “Close Call”, Lewis innocently remarks on the grime of her subject-matter, while retaining an aloof, academic stance, but on the first single, “The Moneymaker”, she overtly flaunts her burgeoning sexuality. Her mid-coital croon is as explicit as the mischievous guitar hook, which unfurls like the soundtrack to a soft-core porn film. It’s the juxtaposition of her intelligent, indie-girl persona with over-the-top sexuality that is so alluring throughout the record.

With its blatant commercialism, Under the Blacklight may suffer a minor backlash, but the band is likely to make up for any fans it loses with such a hook-filled, streamlined record. The kids at their shows just might dress a little differently.

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