Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice have been making music together on and off for five years now, both in and out of the studio. After Rice played on her solo debut Rabbit Fur Coat, their collaboration extended to several co-writes for his 2007 album, Further North, and a similar setup for Lewis’s somewhat underwhelming Acid Tongue, released the following year. I’m Having Fun Now, a co-billed, fifty-fifty effort, is the logical progression from this interchange, and abounds with sweet, sunny harmonies.
So far, so good, but it fast becomes apparent that these harmonies – the perfect combination of perky and jaded – are really the only time that Rice’s talents stack up to those of his girlfriend. His drawl simply doesn’t command attention in the same way as her bright and supple voice. ‘Animal’, on which Lewis provides only backing vocals, is easily the album’s weakest track, while opener ‘Scissor Runner’ is only rescued from sounding thoroughly pedestrian (to the point where it could be The Thrills) by Lewis’s distinctive, knowing turn on the mic as Rice’s contribution pales into the background.
The songs here are bright, breezy and highly melodic, particularly on standout track ‘My Pet Snakes’ with its viper-vicious lyrics. And thankfully, over the course of the album, Lewis proves to be the star, taking centre stage on most songs and on all the album’s highlights. ‘Big Wave’, for one, sounds superficially sunny and surfy but is actually the impact of the global financial crisis on a couple’s relationship, a disastrous effect that hits them “like a big wave”. Elsewhere, the lyrics touch on themes familiar to Lewis’s songwriting partnership with ex-beau Blake Sennett in Rilo Kiley, painting pictures of seedy, sleazy or lonesome characters like those who inhabit this album’s ‘Just Like Zeus’.
These highlights aside, I’m Having Fun Now doesn’t reach the peaks of Jenny Lewis’s best solo work or even Rilo Kiley’s Under The Blacklight, an album much maligned on release in certain quarters but one that has certainly benefitted from distance and a bit of reappraisal. Ultimately, then, while Jenny and Johnny have proven to be the more successful romantic collaboration, Jenny and Blake are still winning in the music stakes.
[UK release TBC]