Singer/songwriter and underground comic book artist Jeffrey Lewis is known for writing sharp, literate, touching, and often hilarious songs about subjects ranging from acid freakouts to historical events, but Manhattan (his seventh full-length for Rough Trade) focuses on tales relating to his home borough, resulting in some of his most personal songwriting to date. A few songs, such as "Scowling Crackhead Ian" and "Sad Screaming Old Man," paint lyrical portraits of eccentric characters, but most of the songs focus on personal issues such as relationships or music industry woes. Lewis is at his most immediate and rocking on "Outta Town," a fun, rollicking number about forgetting how to do basic, everyday things while his girlfriend's away visiting her family. "Support Tours" is a typically biting, quick-witted ditty about the troubles of touring in order to establish one's self as an artist and try to earn a living, and "Have a Baby" is a similarly scathing tune concerning remaining true to punk ideals until it's time to grow up and do responsible things like settling down and having children. As great as Lewis is at penning punchy, acerbic songs like these, he's still a master at taking his time to craft a calmly paced narrative, as best exemplified here by the jaw-dropping eight-minute centerpiece "Back to Manhattan," which chronicles a breakup taking place during a 40-minute walk home from Brooklyn, returning to the phrase "they're in the home stretch but our path is just starting" under different contexts. Lewis concludes the album with "The Pigeon," a Lower East Side retelling of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," loaded with schlocky, modernized Jewish humor (he rhymes "Jimmy Kimmel" with "gimel"). Sonically, Manhattan is one of Lewis' clearest, best-recorded and arranged albums to date, with masses of swirling, atmospheric sounds augmenting the more detailed tracks (the sounds of crowded New York City streets and subways seep into some of the songs). His backing band this time around is credited to Los Bolts, but it includes Heather Wagner and Caitlin Gray (whom Lewis previously worked with under the name the Jrams) and several musicians who have been working with Lewis throughout his career, such as Turner Cody and Dave Beauchamp. The album wouldn't be complete without Lewis' comic book-style liner notes, which depict a filthy, vermin-infested Manhattan subway station, which (typical of his sardonic sense of humor) is labeled "Bleeckest St."
AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson