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Rilo Kiley: Under the Blacklight

Rilo Kiley: Under the Blacklight

Label:Warner Bros.
Release Date:2007

By Mikael Wood | Posted 10/10/2007

This past September, Maroon 5 took the cover of Rolling Stone and Rilo Kiley snagged the cover of Spin. That's a nice coincidence, as Kiley's new Under the Blacklight is pretty much the female-fronted indie-world equivalent of M5's It Won't Be Soon Before Long. On each CD, a young Los Angeles-based outfit explores the sweet--and sour--spot where money, sex, and power meet in exceptionally catchy, deeply crafty tunes that remake sleek '80s R&B as sleeker aughties pop rock. Both are contenders for album of the year.

The internet buzz on Under the Blacklight centers on the fact that the members of Rilo Kiley--erstwhile keepers of the underground faith--have sold their souls in an attempt to rope in fans of Fergie and Kelly Clarkson. Not only is this boring, but it's almost certainly untrue: As is known by anyone who's heard Blacklight's aptly titled predecessor, 2004's More Adventurous, songwriters Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett haven't been stimulated by indie-scene strum-and-mumble for a while now; it's unlikely that their predilection on the new album for synthed-up guitars and robotically assisted drums signals anything but creative growth. (And, anyway, what's wrong with Fergie and Kelly Clarkson fans? They've got excellent taste--at least when it comes to Fergie and Kelly Clarkson.)

The glossy-magazine buzz on Under the Blacklight--typified by Strawberry Saroyan's thoughtful Spin profile--centers on the fact that ex-lovers Lewis and Sennett are embroiled in a complicated battle over who's entitled to steer the good ship Rilo: Sennett formed the band, but last year Lewis sold more than 100,000 copies of her solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat, enormous numbers compared to those of the latest record by Sennett's side project the Elected. Doesn't this mean she's entitled to some kind of veto power? Again: money, sex, power.

But enough blah-blah backstory. The songs are terrific--probably the best Lewis has written. (Sennett gets a single tune, and it's probably the best he's ever written, too.) Like More Adventurous, Blacklight dabbles in genres like an actor tries on costumes: "The Moneymaker" is the No. 2 Heart song of 2007 (after Fergie's Shrek the Third remake of "Barracuda"); "Breakin' Up" is breezy Laurel Canyon disco-folk; "15" should have been on Van Lear Rose; and "Dreamworld" snorts Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" through a thousand-dollar bill, then turns into a helicopter flying over the San Fernando Valley high enough that all the porn-set lights look like stars, but not so high that you can't look through the window of your childhood home and see your parents watching TV in the living room.

Unlike It Won't Be Soon Before Long, where Adam Levine's bracingly immediate lyrics gradually recede in order to reveal the grain of his grooves, Lewis' words on Blacklight keep getting deeper. You'll listen to "Breakin' Up" a dozen times before you catch every spark of her wordplay. And if that's what it takes to convince you that the lady hasn't gone Hollywood, it's just one of many illusions she's happy to indulge.

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