TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Our rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of the new album by Jenny Lewis called "The Voyager." Lewis began her career as a child actress. Appearing in films such as "Troop Beverly Hills" and playing Lucille Ball's grandchild in the short-lived sitcom "Life With Lucy." She's achieved musical fame as part of the indie band Rilo Kiley, which broke up in 2011. "The Voyager" is her third solo album.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEAD UNDER WATER")
JENNY LEWIS: (Singing) I've been wearing all black since the day it started. When I stopped and looked back as my mind departed. I've been losing sleep and I cannot sit still. I'm not the same woman that you used to hold. I put my head underwater water, baby. I threw my clothes away in the trash. I stood barefoot on the blazing concrete. I was waiting for the girl to thunder. I don't care.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Jenny Lewis' first solo album in six years very deliberately announces a new chapter in her career and perhaps her life. The song that opened this review, "Head Under Water," is also its opening track. In it, she talks about wearing black clothes to match a black mood and emerging from that funk to becoming engaged with the world again. The song very quickly becomes a bright example of LA power-pop, wearing lightly influences ranging from Fleetwood Mac to the Bangles. Another excellent song, "She's Not Me," reaches back to 1960s Motown for its girl-group rigor.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE'S NOT ME")
LEWIS: (Singing) I used to think you could save me. I've been wander lately. Heard she's having your baby and everything's so amazing. It goes on and on and on and on. It goes on and on and on and on. But she's not me, she's easy.
TUCKER: Lewis' strength as a singer is that she's a powerful vocalists who rarely shows off her chops. Like the once and future actress she is, she knows how to modulate the emotion she puts out there, holding back to achieve some of her best effects. This is a quality showcased on a song produced by Beck, called "Just One Of The Guys." The song is getting some attention for its video which features Lewis singing alongside gal pals including Anne Hathaway and Kristen Stewart. But you don't need the visuals to lock into the hypnotic allure of the melody.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST ONE OF THE GUYS")
LEWIS: (Singing) All our friends, they're getting on. But the girls are still staying young. If I get caught being rude in a conversation with the child bride on her summer vacation. No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys there's a little something inside that won't let me.
TUCKER: There's a back story to "The Voyager" as Lewis is describing it in interviews and her record company bio. During the years since her last album her father died and her band Rilo Kiley broke up. And Lewis has said, quote, "I completely melted down. It nearly destroyed me." These life changes seem to have thrown Lewis back on herself. There are moments on this album when she grapples with her past, seeing it, reinterpreting it - in a new light. You can hear that in a song she said was inspired by her father, "You Can't Out Run Him," or on this one, "Late Bloomer."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LATE BLOOMER")
LEWIS: (Singing) When I turned 16 I was furious and restless. Got a chancy girl haircut and a plane ticket to Paris. I stayed there with the Pansy, he had a studio in the seventh. Lost his lover to a sickness, I slept beside him in his bed. That's when I met Nancy, she was smoking on a gipsy. She had ring in her nose and her eyes were changing like moonstones. She said, open up late bloomer, it'll make you smile. I can see that fire burning in you little child.
TUCKER: There's a certain blind self-absorption that occasionally mars "The Voyager." She opens a song called "The New You" addressing a former lover. Saying that the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was when, quote, "I knew you'd be leaving me soon. It's what tore us apart." Which is bravely myopic to put the best spin on it. But that's a fleeting flaw, working on most of this album with alt.-country rocker Ryan Adams as producer, Jenny Lewis cultivates a deceptive mildness on many of "Voyager's" songs. Some of its best music yields it's power after a few listenings. In other words, it's an album to spend time with, opening up more and more every time you hear it.
GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed Jenny Lewis' new album called "The Voyager." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.