On the Line

Jenny Lewis

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On the Line Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Consider On the Line as the companion to its predecessor The Voyager. It's not simply that the cover art invites such comparisons. Jenny Lewis once again works with producer Ryan Adams for a good chunk of the album, reuniting with a number of familiar players on the SoCal circuit, such as keyboardist Benmont Tench and Beck, while finding room for cameos from Ringo Starr, Don Was, and Jim Keltner. It's a high-end set of professional players, a supporting cast that lends On the Line the feeling of a low-key Hollywood jam session: everybody is in place, doing their best to make the star shine. The Voyager had a similar aesthetic but a different vibe. On that 2014 album, Adams created a stylized retro-fantasia that evoked the forgotten corners of early-'80s AOR -- a sound that suited a suite of songs that suggested Lewis pulled herself together. On the Line doesn't sound nearly as coherent. Produced in part by Adams and Shawn Everett, On the Line feels as if it's slowly falling apart, a collection that marches slowly but not particularly steadily. Credit its coherence to all the old pros, including Lewis herself, whose singing is strong and nuanced throughout the record, her exacting phrasing underscoring how her songs dodge autobiography; this isn't confession, it's performance. All the sonic elements are in place, so it's slightly disappointing that the songs aren't as vivid as the album's deliberately hazy vibe. At times, Lewis' lyrics are a little too precise, while her melodies ramble -- a pair of excesses that make the sharper tunes pop, whether they're soft ("Taffy") or bright ("Red Bull & Hennessey," the neo-girl group title track). When these moments arrive, they're powerful enough to give the rest of the record momentum, yet it's an album where the particulars dissipate after its conclusion, leaving behind pleasant thoughts but no distinct memories.

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