It would be easy to forgive anyone who thought that Jenny Lewis was at least a little schizophrenic. The former child actress’ musical career has been marked by constant stylistic changes, from the Bright Eyes-influenced indie rock of early Rilo Kiley to the rootsy folk and country of her first solo album Rabbit Fur Coat and then the preening glam-pop of the last Rilo Kiley album Under The Blacklight. Acid Tongue, her second solo album, is yet another change, grittier than Rabbit Fur Coat and rougher round the edges than Under The Blacklight, Acid Tongue feels both completely different to her old work and at the same time oddly familiar.
The songs on Acid Tongue travel across familiar ground to much of her other work – confessional tales of sex and drugs etc. – but this time Lewis seems keener to play narrator of other people’s crazy lives. Where Rabbit Fur Coat seemed an extremely personal and downbeat record about redemption, Acid Tongue seems more like a record revelling in the gutter. This is apparent in songs like the hip-shaking ‘See Fernando’, a raucous tale of an accommodating drug dealer, and on ‘Carpetbaggers’, a tale of grifters and users that is also home to a duet with Elvis Costello. Musically the album dispenses with the folkier leanings of her first solo album in favour of a rawer southern-rock feel on many tracks, particularly on ‘The Next Messiah’ which features The Black Crowes’ Chris Robbinson.
The key to the album’s rough and ready feel is the fact that it was mostly recorded live in three weeks with a large cast of friends and family. As well as the forementioned Chris Robbinson and Elvis Costello vocals, there are also backing-vocals from her sister, her Dad and a range of alt-folk stars. However, throughout the album you are always pulled towards Jenny Lewis herself: even Elvis Costello’s star turn on “Carpetbaggers” cant detract from her genuine star quality. There are one or two dud moments: ‘The Next Messiah’ is an overambitious song cycle that feels more like an experiment with 3 half songs rather than one coherent piece. However, this doesn’t detract from the fact that Acid Tongue is in parts some of Jenny Lewis’s best work yet, and helps to showcase her ever-increasing maturity as a songwriter.