Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Back In The Mainstream Again

Rilo Kiley’s 'Under The Blacklight'

I’m expecting some rather baffled reactions to this latest outing from music press darlings Rilo Kiley, at the very least from the indie mafia. A couple of years ago, John Kell and I went to see them at the Marquee in London, an enjoyable show that nevertheless prompted John to dismiss them as MOR. In a way, he had a point, and this album will certainly bolster his argument. ‘Under The Blacklight’ is a very clever and calculated attempt to catapult the band away from the indie ghetto and into the world of major league pop.

Luckily, at its best, it is indeed poptastic. The highlights here draw on a wide range of 60s and 70s black music influences, from disco to simmering Stax soul, but these influences are processed through a lush, highly polished US West Coast production. It’s a delightfully summery record, but also a notably pristine and perfected one too. The opening ‘Silver Lining’ which places some of Jenny Lewis’ more expressive vocals against some brilliant high end guitar pluckings is completely delightful. Even better is the delectably light disco groove of ‘Breakin’ Up’. ‘Smoke Detector’ is unashamedly lightweight, and works brilliantly as a result, whilst ‘15’ sets its cautionary tale of unwitting exploitation of an underage girl to a sultry soul backing, complete with lovingly arranged horn section. It’s mostly mercifully more faithful genre recreation than pastiche.

I’m even gradually learning to love the tracks I was initially uncertain about. ‘When The Angels Come Around’ is most like the Rilo Kiley of old, but has a wonderfully infectious, stomping chorus. ‘The Moneymaker’, which initially sounded rather heavy handed and lumbering, is revealing itself as a slightly off-kilter oddity and ‘Close Call’ is luscious and sensual. Blake Sennett’s ‘Dreamworld’ is a step too far into cod-ethereal blandness for me though, and doesn’t really go anywhere particularly exciting.

I’m afraid I remain unconvinced about Jenny Lewis herself though. If the great Elvis Costello admires her as a lyricist, one would be forgiven for assuming that she’s a writer of real substance. I’m not so sure. ‘Under The Blacklight’ is preoccupied with sex, and whilst it’s neither embarrassing nor laboured, I’m not sure Lewis is anywhere near as insightful as she clearly wants to be. Some of the lyrics are also either clunky or meaningless. Her voice has definitely assumed more character though and the sultriness now seems less forced.

The polished production and mainstream values suit this band so much better than the faux-indie pretentions of old. Listening to ‘Under The Blacklight’, one gets the impression that, much like The Cardigans, or Blondie before them, they have always secretly wanted to be a mega-selling pop act. With this record, they may well achieve that – and that’s no crime against humanity.

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