Forget She & Him; Jenny and Johnny are alt-pop’s hot, fun couple.
Martin Aston 2010-11-11
When will the law of diminishing returns kick in for Jenny Lewis? Since Rilo Kiley’s 2004 breakthrough More Adventurous, we’ve had their equally inspired Under the Blacklight album, two superb and varied solo records (Rabbit Fur Coat and Acid Tongue) and now this collaboration with boyfriend Johnathan Rice (whose own folk-troubadour career seems on permanent hold). I’m Having Fun Now is probably Lewis’ most streamlined, pop-centric album, but if the title indicates something throwaway, that’s not Lewis’ style. She can effortlessly turn out cookie-cutter and bubblegum-pretty pop but always with cunning, narrative smarts and a darker underbelly to even her most purring delivery. Ask Elvis Costello, who was so inspired by working with Jenny and Johnny on Carpetbaggers that he enlisted them and their Acid Tongue band to help make 2008’s Momofuku, his most liberated album in years.
In any case, this is pop cut from the same cloth as Fleetwood Mac, and with the taut jangling style of early R.E.M. Production-wise, it’s definitely Mac-glossy, but tunes this good sometimes find their natural home. The album was recorded in Nebraska (she’s big buddies with Bright Eyes) during the worst Midwestern winter in 150 years (the front door of their guest house actually froze shut) but it radiates Californian sunshine – even when Lewis is lamenting her home state’s economic demise, as on Big Wave. But it’s Rice who kicks off the album with Scissor Runner, another gorgeous jangler that will seduce all fans of Byrds-descended jangle.
Rice also fronts a more sombre Switchblade. The intro, "it’s been one long year of Saturday nights in the city of a sleeping sun," draws you into a tale of despair as Lewis coos, "see you on the way up" while Rice sighs, "on the way down." If the couple’s love life resembles their vocals, they’re clearly having fun. They take turns, duet and dovetail so well, you can’t imagine they’ll ever break up. The just plain gorgeous New Yorker Cartoon is their harmonising high, run close by Just Like Zeus, another blast of UV rays that won’t damage your health.
I’m Having Fun Now hasn’t the range and tension of the best Lewis records (a few more twists like Rice’s unexpected Lou Reed-ish swagger on Committed would have been good). But if you’re California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day, this is a blast. Forget She & Him; Jenny and Johnny are alt-pop’s hot, fun couple.