The first three seconds of Jenny Lewis’s new album sounds like a cresendo-ing choir—until it’s clipped, cut off, stopped prematurely by a piano chord. It then progresses into a treatise on nostalgia, mortality and unexpected outcomes. And Head Underwater is just the beginning. Despite the wide-eyed vocals and optimistic guitars, The Voyager is an album intensely concerned with the passing of time and the inevitability of that passing. On Head Underwater, Lewis sings, “I’m not the same woman that you were used to,” and, over the course of The Voyager, she proves it.
You’ve probably heard the single, Just One Of The Guys, a serious earworm, with its seesawing heel-toe percussion, harmony-soaked hook and a gently twanged, sing-along-able chorus: “No matter how hard I try/to have an open mind/there’s a little clock inside that keeps ticking.” It is, underneath everything, a song about biological clocks and their needless, but inevitable weight—particularly on women. This isn’t necessarily a confessional album, though, and it’s not necessarily about Lewis. She takes on the persona of various characters throughout the album, each one dealing with different problems and stages in their lives. Slippery Slopes buries a story about turning a blind eye to cheating in hairy guitars and thick, prodding drums. Aloha & The Three Johns has a tropical tourist slant to it, filtered through the eyes of a person in an uneven relationship.
This is Lewis’s first new album in six years, and if much of The Voyager‘s lyrical content is about maturing, it’s largely reflected in its sound. Anthemic, confident, willing to play with little flourishes, but not hiding behind a wash of lo-fi neuroses, Lewis’s footing on each track is clear and steady. Little tweaks separate each song from the next, but The Voyager is, at its core, an unpretentiously bright pop album. Late Bloomer is a chronological story of a life told through a misty acoustic guitar and a faux breezy chorus that sounds like a country western shoot-out. New You, despite its percussion that shudders in the back of your throat, is still a simple bootstraps pop song. And Love U Forever is straight out of the Clueless soundtrack, with grunge guitar flips and hurried snare fills.
What prevents The Voyager from sounding like just another folk-pop album is that Lewis is, truly, a storyteller. There’s a solid, emotionally honest narrative in each track—proof of Lewis’s linguistic finesse. But while each song on the album seems to tell a different story, together they tell one: Some things may have changed in that six-year interim, but those changes have only worked in Lewis’s favor.