Rilo Kiley : Under the Blacklight
The gauntlet has been thrown, and by the end of this review, you’ll understand that it’s been thrown in a number of ways. The first has to do with 50 Cent and Kanye West. Both have albums coming out on September 11th. Ominous, no? 50 Cent has declared that if West’s CD sells more copies than his, he’ll quit the rap game. But just a few weeks before that, there’s another, less publicized confluence of talents on the same day. My friend and I, when we realized that the new albums from both the New Pornographers and Rilo Kiley were going to be released on the same day, argued over which one each of us were most looking forward to. For my money it was definitely the latter. Don’t misunderstand me; I love The New Pornographers. I just happen to enjoy the members’ solo projects far more than I like them as a whole. On the other hand, I also love The Elected and Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins. Yet somehow, I am more appeased by the group dynamic in their case. Although ex-lover tension might simmer between the two central figures, they manage to turn that tension into music fraught with intensity. Then again, maybe that’s the secret. Hell, it worked for Fleetwood Mac! Oddly enough, that reference will be invoked again by the time the review’s over.
As I’m writing this, the record isn’t even out yet. In fact, it’s almost two weeks away from its release, and already opinions are polarized. That’s easily explained for critics. We all get the record early in order to absorb it before we write about it. For fans, it’s more muddled, having to do with only a few snippets of songs or whatever’s been released on their website or MySpace page, mostly consisting of the first single, “The Moneymaker.” Yet, out of all of these opinions and reviews, I haven’t heard one person get it right yet. OK, maybe one, and he stole my idea of how to describe the album. It’s still fitting, so I’m going to use it anyway: This is the album that should have been called More Adventurous. Rilo Kiley stray out of their alt-country comfort zones and wander onto the dancefloor in Under the Blacklight. One dueling review I read (done by a magazine we at Treble really like) had it wrong on both sides! Arrgggh!
For those Rilo fans longing for the beautiful voice of Jenny Lewis, the shimmery guitar work of Blake Sennett and the intricate storytelling lyrics of the two together, all of that is still intact! There’s nothing to fear, unless a groovelicious bassline and soulful beats haunt your every waking dream! Yes, Rilo Kiley has found the funk in their function and the disco in their discography. Under the Blacklight is all about fun, and since when has that been a dirty word? Have all of us indie kids gotten so uptight and snobby that we can’t let loose and enjoy a little pop now and then?
This album has a little bit of everything from the soul singing backups and high note guitars of “Silver Lining” to the Bill Withers-meets-LL Cool J piano groove of “Give a Little Love.” In between lies even more magic. “Close Call” sounds like The Cure highlighted by the glorious voice of Jenny Lewis. “Breakin’ Up” wittily uses a little wordplay to liken a failed relationship to bad reception on a cell phone. All the while, there’s a Bee Gees dance-tastic feel to the track, complete with guitars that sound like they’re an homage to Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen,” or as the kids today might recognize it, as Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious.” “Under the Blacklight” and “Dreamworld” are just downright smooooooth. In the latter, Sennett and Lewis sing together, sounding like Ms. Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham sitting in with New Order. “15” takes a concept that both Depeche Mode and Big Star employed so brilliantly and turns it into a soulful Van Morrison meets Dusty Springfield Muscle Shoals horn-filled extravaganza! “Smoke Detector” brings back Lewis’ much beloved theme of dangerous sex (as Jon Lovitz once said, “Dangerous sex! Dangerous sex! Why isn’t there a word for dangerous sex?”) and then turns it on its ear, making it a song that’s also about a dance craze.
I am hesitant to even discuss “The Moneymaker,” but I suppose I should. Just like the album, people are bound to either love or hate it. When numerous friends told me about its appearance online, and how much they despised it, I had to hear it myself. To their surprise, I really liked it. It’s not my absolute favorite Rilo song, but it’s infectious. It’s not their most inspired set of lyrics, but that bridge of “and deep in my hands / I will if you want me to” is so deliciously Pat Benatar-esque it seems to transcend the band’s oeuvre and leap into dance-pop classic. I’m sure many will disagree with me, but there you have it. You know, it’s amazing that this many people didn’t turn on Ben Gibbard collaborated with Jimmy Tamborello to make the indie kids dance. Then again, I suppose if he had chosen Timbaland, things might have been different.
Larry Doyle, a former writer for The Simpsons, just released a brilliant novel of teenage love called I Love You, Beth Cooper in which a valedictorian admits his crush on the head cheerleader in his graduation speech, then has to deal with the consequences. Well, as his character’s message was to never regret not taking chances, so Rilo Kiley has taken a chance on the kind of music they loved growing up. And let me not regret saying, “I love you, Rilo Kiley. Don’t let the bastards get you down. History will judge the merits of this record. Keep on keepin’ on!”
Label: Warner Bros.