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Rilo Kiley Will Try to Love You

<em>Under the Blacklight</em> is the fourth album by the Los Angeles-based Rilo Kiley.
Under the Blacklight is the fourth album by the Los Angeles-based Rilo Kiley.

Jenny Lewis has the clear voice and honest melodicism of a guitar-strumming angel. But she is so good to look at and so forthright about her sexuality that some of the band's serious-minded natural audience suspect she is a pop starlet on the make, like Rihanna or the pitiable Britney Spears.

On Rilo Kiley's new album, Under the Blacklight, provocative songs like "The Moneymaker" are not about to ease those on-the-make rumors. 2004's breakthrough, More Adventurous, favored square beats, flowing melodies and wordy lyrics that were comprehensible as sound and sense. But Lewis' 2006 one-off with the Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat, apparently sated her folk-rock yearnings. So on Black Light she conspires with hip-hop and pop producer-arranger Mike Elizondo on an album that seems designed to pay its respects to pop radio.

But paying respects to pop radio is not the same thing as prostrating before it, unlike, for instance, chart-topping Nelly Furtado, who has also worked with Elizondo. Lewis is not necessarily hit-bound, especially on "Dejalo," which goes on: "My mama is an atheist/If I stay out late she don't get pissed." Nor is she likely to go gold with "15," about a teenager who's "down for almost anything." Nor with "Close Call," about an adult who is getting "money for sex."

Nothing on the new album is quite as brilliant as the Bush-bashing "It's a Hit" or the triple-POV "A Man/Me/Then Jim" on the last one. But the band's new musical tack suits Lewis' crucial thematic preoccupation. Unlike the average Hollywood hussy, Lewis has not just the beauty but also the brains to be searching about her own sex appeal. She is not vain about it, but she is not apologetic about it, either. Just like the male Justin Timberlakes that pop always throws in our faces, this female will try to love you. She will wonder who is at fault harder than the average matinee idol when things do not work out, too. But in the end, que sera sera.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Robert Christgau contributes regular music reviews to All Things Considered.
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