Tuesday, March 8, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 842: Jenny and Johnny

Despite being in bed by 10:30 last night I was tired all day today. I feel like I need a weekend and it is only Tuesday.

Disc 842 is….I’m Having Fun Now
Artist: Jenny and Johnny

Year of Release: 2010

What’s up with the Cover? A sexy summer-clad Jenny Lewis reclines in a driveway. There is some annoying dude also in the photo who I totally don’t remember including when I invited Jenny over for some driveway lounging in our beach wear. Let’s call him “Johnny” since that is probably who he is. Just having him in the shot is making me see red! No, wait - that’s just a filter. I’m fine.

How I Came To Know It: I already knew I liked Jenny Lewis from her previous solo work and work with the band Rilo Kiley. When I heard she had done a collaboration with boyfriend Johnathan Rice I decided to give it a chance.

How It Stacks Up:  This is the only “Jenny and Johnny” album I have. It is kind of like a Jenny Lewis solo album, and since I included it when ranking Lewis’ solo album “The Voyager” back at Disc 675 I’ll do so again. Of those four albums, I’ll put “Jenny and Johnny” third.

Ratings: 3 stars but almost 4

When I bought “Jenny and Johnny” it was billed to me as a solid summertime ‘go to the beach’ type of album and that’s what it turned out to be. This is an album of solid pop songs that give you a pleasant relaxed vibe, but the production gets in the way of the more thoughtful qualities the album also aspires to.

The hallmarks of Jenny Lewis’ solo career are still here, with the easy melodies and lyrics that are straightforward and personal. Lewis has a talent for taking dark and depressing subject matter and wrapping it up in upbeat pop songs so it takes a few lessons for you to realize everything isn’t just fun in the sun.

The music has a bit of a Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” feel, with a lot of fuzzy wall-of-sound stuff, and melodies between Jenny and Johnny. It reminded me a bit of the Blake Sennett songs from her time in Rilo Kiley; airy and light. It is very well done (and generally better than those Sennett tracks) but I still found myself wishing for more Jenny and less Johnny.

The songs would benefit from a bit less of the fuzz that infuses the record and let the songs stand on their own merits. The constant high singing and thick coating of sugary production sometimes makes everything feel a bit too twee and precious. A song like ‘Just Like Zeus’ is best in the first bar, when it is just Jenny singing, and when Johnny joins in it feels kind of like the Carter Family before Johnny Cash; precise but lacking an edge.

New Yorker Cartoon” has a pretty tune but the imagery is too strained, and it drew me out of the experience. It was like they fell in love with the idea of a New Yorker cartoon a bit too much for their own good, which is odd, because New Yorker cartoons aren’t even that good. I’d rather read Dilbert.

But I digress…

Back to the good stuff on this album, because despite my lukewarm tone there is plenty of it. “My Pet Snakes” is full of energy and has Lewis in full throat. Johnny’s raspy and airy voice works here as a nice offset to hers. I liked them trading lyrics back and forth rather than working harmonies all the time.

Big Wave” is an infectious song that just makes you want to go surfing, even though Jenny sneaks in lyrics about living beyond our means. The tune makes you feel like you are just one big wave away from the best time of your live, but the actual big wave here is debt and excess, about to crash down around your ears. As usual with Jenny Lewis, she is a master of juxtaposing fun and tragedy.

Like a lot of Jenny Lewis’ work, “I’m Having Fun Now” has a lot more going on than is immediately apparent. It is a fun trip to the beach, but also one that when you look around a bit you find some bums sleeping behind the public toilets. There is enough substance to give the album a full 4 stars, but some of the production decisions held it just south of that mark for me.

Best tracks:  My Pet Snakes, Switchblade, Big Wave, Just Like Zeus, Straight Edge of the Blade

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