Jenny Lewis - The Voyager | Album Review | By Volume

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Jenny Lewis

The Voyager

Jenny Lewis takes us on a rocket journey through our brains.

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Author: on August 1, 2014
Warner Brothers

On The Voyager, Jenny Lewis revels in her normalcy. She questions what it means to be a woman, wonders about space, reminisces about past adventures, and toys with regret over her losses. She tells the story of a threesome in France, and tries some drugs along the way, but there’s nothing groundbreaking in this story. The music is pretty normal too — jangly guitars, basic rhythms, the occasional swelling string line. Critics might call it banal, or worse, boring, and on the one hand, it’s hard to argue with them.

On the other hand, The Voyager is so real and so damn good that it deserves hailing as one of the best pop rock records in recent memory. The lyrics are unfailingly insightful and sympathetic. The riffs are exquisitely polished, and the beats will take over the rhythm of your foot tapping. The Jenny Lewis we knew and loved from her Rilo Kiley days is all grown up and back to rock ‘n’ roll. The Voyager feels like Lewis picking up where she left off after her other band’s last record, 2007’s Under the Blacklight. Since then, Lewis has struggled with insomnia and her estranged father’s death. She also put out a lovely, thoughtful solo record in 2008, that did everything in its power to break from her previous sound. Additionally, she released a charming, sunny album with boyfriend Jonathan Rice in 2010, and that other band officially broke up in 2011.

In Lewis’ first record in six years, she incorporates the corners of all of that, and builds something fresh. As a songwriter, Lewis has always created instantly relatable lyrics. She may be a rock star, but she has no trouble convincing us that she commiserates with the daily struggles of being a young woman figuring out how to survive. In “The New You” she sings, “But I can read your fortune, just lay out your palm / Whoever you’re avoiding, they will all sing along”, and Lewis shares in our lostness. In “She’s Not Me,” she croons “It goes on and on and on and on, it goes on and on and on and on / But she’s not me / She’s easy”. It’s the kind of lyric that would be eye-roll-worthy from someone else’s mouth, but Lewis makes mastery of simplicity and makes commonplace fuck-ups compelling. We don’t often hear a song from the perspective of someone taking ownership for destroying their relationship, through a combination of cheating and screwy mental health, and Lewis doesn’t insist we feel sorry for the character — she’s simply offering her side of the mess.

These are the stories shows like Girls wish they could tell so well. “Late Bloomer” captures the anguish of teen rebellion and sexuality in the story of a sixteen-year-old girl who falls in love with a woman, and has a threesome so she can be with her, then never writes her again. In “Just One of the Guys”, the album’s charming lead single, Lewis deftly conveys the anxiety of juggling the expectations of women with her own desires and sense of self, all over a bubbly pop track that won’t quit. Some internet feminists have criticized the track for not being the feminist anthem we’ve all been waiting for. But Lewis never called it that. She just wrote a song about her feelings concerning patriarchal norms that make her feel limited in and by her womanhood. In Mother Jones, she confirms that she is a feminist who has worked hard to achieve so much in a world run by boys.

Lewis starts the album with “Head Underwater”, a confessional song about her sleeplessness and grief that hints at suicide ideation and the potential freedom found in ones own mortality. Its darkness feels comfortable — as many who experience depression can tell you, there is at times a sweet release in succumbing to the pain and letting it own you for a while. It’s an unsettling note to start on and gives listeners a reference point for where Lewis has been. In the album’s title track and closer, Lewis leaves us with a promise for where she — and all of us — are going. She sings about flipping through the Times in a 7-11 parking lot and putting herself into space. We’re all the voyager, she insists. We all have access to heaven. After a few years rife with pain and loss, Lewis has found hope, and she’s clinging to it for dear life. As the album rings to a close, her message is clear. In our day to day heartbreaks, mistakes and victories, there is always a reason to look to the skies. Life is incredibly normal, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be magical, too.

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