Jenny Lewis was quoted in the press release for her new album: “Many of the songs on The Voyager came out of the need to occupy my mind in the moments when I just couldn’t shut down.” And as she sings in opener “Head Underwater,” “I put my head underwater, baby/ I held my breath until it passed/ Crossed my fingers and concentrated/ I closed my eyes and I was free at last.” It’s easy to imagine the appeal of Lewis’ relatively straightforward rock as the hypnotizing effect of immersing oneself in a zone without exchange, expression, or capability and finding, in place of death, a curious occupation of the mind. At the exact moment the darkness of the past threatens to shut everything down, you discover “…a little bit of magic[;]/ Everybody has it.” As Rilo Kiley marched toward Under the Blacklight, their final album, perhaps Lewis’ writing wasn’t losing its honesty and edge but was instead driving its head further underwater.
On the Fleetwood-inspired cut “The New You,” Lewis succumbs to inevitability in a number of ways; she cedes to oversimplified historical analyses (“When the Twin Towers fell and it all went to hell…”) and suggests via an allusion to palmreading that, despite the myriad number of personal changes one is capable of inducing at a moment’s notice, everyone possesses an unwavering fate and identity. On less “inspired” and thematically resonant tracks like “You Can’t Outrun ‘Em” and “Aloha & The Three Johns,” we can read the attitude as one of cynicism, especially as Lewis seems to write Jenny Lewis songs and does nothing else. Still, recurring motifs and idiosyncrasies between songs like “She’s Not Me,” “Slippery Slopes,” and the title track both demand to be read more deeply and send out a torrent of earworms destined to burrow inside the unsuspecting listener for weeks. The Voyager is a collection of catchy songs intended for those who have lost confidence in catchy songs.
“Late Bloomer,” a song about a bizarre love triangle as catchy as “Bizarre Love Triangle,” prominently figures the story of a girl who moves to Paris in search of the writer of her favorite song. In times of joy, amazement, or emotional distress, we often ignore the music we outwardly hold to be important or groundbreaking in favor of the songs we “like,” because they resemble those we were taught to like by our elders or that we like for no reason at all. For me, “Just One Of The Guys” might be one of those songs. Aside from being extremely catchy, the song runs through a partial list of arbitrarily policed gender roles (“I’m not gonna brake for you/ I’m not gonna pray for you/ I’m not gonna pay for you/ That’s not what ladies do”) while insisting in an exasperated manner that, for Lewis, there’s no hope for a life free of mindless repetition and fulfillment of archaic expectations. Even more surprising is the exciting and therapeutic potential found in this mind without thought, like the oxygen-deprived high of “Head Underwater.” What first appears to be some kind of indie rock death drive proves to be a source of healing.