Jenny Lewis has been in the entertainment business for longer than most people have been recovering from the 80s. Her transition into music in 1998 by starting a band with her boyfriend, Blake Sennett, that would ultimately become the successful indie outfit known as Rilo Kiley, was a fortuitous turn away from acting. When it all fell apart as a result of her breakup (a pattern eerily similar to her own parents, who were in a Vegas lounge act together that broke apart when their relationship did), Lewis began working on her own solo projects, in addition to other musical endeavors, including her collaboration on The Postal Service's 2003 wrist-cutting essential, Give Up. The Voyager, Lewis' third solo album, is the culmination of five years of work and reflection, specifically about the disbanding of Rilo Kiley and the death of Lewis' father.
The Voyager begins with "Head Underwater," an ode to taking a moment. Whether you actually do that by placing your head underwater to block out the rest of the world around you or through some other means (drugs anyone?) is at your discretion. Lewis describes, "I held my breath until it passed/I closed my eyes and I was free at last." The pain she experienced makes itself apparent in the re-telling of her coping mechanisms. The second track, "She's Not Me," which is also the name of a Madonna song that you should listen to, is self-evident in its title, detailing the ways in which one's ex is fooling himself into substituting one with another ho. Lyrics like, "Heard she's having your baby/And everything's so amazing/But she's not me/She's easy," combine just the right amount of woundedness and bashing.
The first single from the album, "Just One Of The Guys," has a lackadaisical beat (perhaps to match Lewis' perception of men, or perhaps a result of her San Fernando Valley upbringing) that reels you in right away. Simultaneously lamenting and relishing the fact that, "No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys/There's a little something inside that won't let me," Lewis gives us a firsthand account of having an unwanted biological clock. She hits the point home by saying, "I'm just another lady without a baby." And then there's the video, featuring Anne Hathaway and Kristen Stewart in their best versions of drag kings.
The laidback vibes continue on "Slippery Slopes." A comment on the challenges of long-term relationships, and the temptations that other people can present when you're bored and/or apart from the one you love, Lewis somewhat sardonically states, "I am still into you, dreams really do come true/I feel it everywhere, even in my red hair," then adds, "If you don't wreck it, then I won't wreck it either."
Lewis is anything but a late bloomer in terms of exposure to cracked outedness while serving time in Hollywood as a child actor (she had a role on Life With Lucy, one of Lucille Ball's many short-lived shows post-I Love Lucy, and, more importantly in Troop Beverly Hills with Shelley Long). And yet, the appearance of a song called "Late Bloomer" seems believable as Lewis sings in an autobiographical manner, crooning, "When I turned 16, I was furious and restless."
Possessing a country twang, "You Can't Outrun 'Em" is a song about Lewis' father and his ultimate demise. Singing, "I'm afraid you chose the red door with the triple six neon sign," Lewis could be speaking both to him or herself about the state of his health. Lewis, who had gotten closer to her father after he had spent most of her youth traveling (he, too, was a musician--which was, in part, what allowed her to forgive him for his absence: an empathetic understanding), also asks herself, "After all that you've been through, haven't you learned anything?", as though feeling she (and her father) should have somehow known better than to think they had more time together.
"The New You" addresses Lewis' metamorphosis and eventual ability to cope with the strife in her life. Looking at The Voyager as a form of therapy, she could be talking to any number of people when she accuses, "You perfected the art of making it all about you" (though, in all reality, she's probably continuing to talk about Sennett). Hawaiian waves of goodness and well-being wash over you when you listen to "Aloha and the Three Johns." Yet another song that sounds as though it's speaking directly to Sennett, Lewis questions, "Is this the beginning of our vacation/Or is this the end of our relationship?" The answer: it's the end.
A more rock-tinged sound accompanies "Love U Forever," which rehashes the encounter of a new love as Lewis sings, "When I met you, you were just a boy/And you were tongue-tied and wearing corduroys." Somewhat paraphrasing Jessica Simpson, Lewis assures, "I could love you forever"--though, of course, that never did happen (at least with Sennett, but who's to say it couldn't with her current boyfriend, Jonathan Rice?). The last track, "The Voyager," is a melancholic, symphonic bookend to an emotional album, and tells the tale of the voyager in all of us, whether this is a literal or metaphorical description. Combining her signature brand of sadness and sweetness, she recounts, "By the time I got your letter, I lost my mind/I was trippin'/When you gettin' better?, it's a jagged line." The chorus of the song also seems to be the overall theme of the album: "There are voyagers in every boy and girl/If you wanna get to heaven, get outta this world." Luckily, we have Lewis to take us to that place without ever having to leave the apartment (because you probably don't have a house if you're the type of person listening to this).