When Rilo Kiley front-woman Jenny Lewis released Rabbit Fur Coat in 2006, listeners heard a new confidence in her voice. It startled fans, but in a good way. Lewis’s vocal talent had always been apparent, but when she stepped away from the comfort zone of Rilo Kiley, she pushed herself to expand her lungs and her material. With tender backup vocals from the Watson Twins, who dwarfed her in height but did not outshine her in singing ability, Lewis found her niche in alt-country, a genre that suits her well. Given the critical success of Rabbit Fur Coat, expectations were high for her latest solo release, Acid Tongue.
The album strikes a balance between the heavily country leanings of Rabbit Fur Coat and the schizophrenic funk of Rilo Kiley’s most recent release, Under the Blacklight. While many reviews have called Acid Tongue extremely listenable, Lewis’s insistence on driving down the middle gives the album a feeling of recklessness. Listening to it is like watching a driver who can’t pick a lane. The title track sticks to the alt-country side of the road and feels comfortable and stable. This is Lewis’s voice in its element, with instrumentation that elevates it and a vocal range that lets her voice sparkle. But the following track, “See Fernando,” is a violent swerve to the Under the Blacklight lane. Guitars are heavy on the track, with too much feedback. There are awkward interludes of percussion, and it’s hard to pull out the lyrics or Lewis’s voice, which is a real shame. The album’s ambivalent sense of direction makes listening exciting the first time, but wears thin on follow-up listens. Acid Tongue makes your finger itch to tap the skip button, depending on which Jenny Lewis you’re in the mood for.