Musical collaborations between real-life couples usually don’t work out all that well. The results are generally too saccharine and rapturous to resonate all that strongly with a populace that has grown to distrust any type of perceived novelty in their music, and the songs typically drip with the blissful lust of a romance that isn’t all that interesting to outsiders. Breakup albums are routinely far more interesting, as the desolation and pain resulting from the relationship’s dissolution often inspires more identifiable sentiments with the listener and, quite frankly, better source material.
However, in the case of Jenny And Johnny (Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis and singer/songwriter Jonathan Rice, who’s also the guitarist in Lewis’ touring band), their burgeoning relationship takes a decided backseat to the vibrant music on their charming debut, I’m Having Fun Now. The spirited results of these two sweethearts working together are actually quite absorbing and engaging, never approaching the overly-sentimental mush that is often the downfall to these type of projects. These lighthearted, dulcet numbers work extremely well as long as the doting duo keeps their subject matter as carefree as their buoyant melodies. Jenny and Johnny only run into problems when they strain to tackle larger issues and concerns within the confines of songs that are far too simple to carry the burden of their overreaching social commentary.
Lead-off track ‘Scissor Runner’ makes light of childhood warnings about never running with sharp objects, while acknowledging the appeal that “dangerous” suitors have over our hearts, and how sometimes we just fall for those that are willing to take hazardous risks. The breakdown at the end of the track is (perhaps intentionally) reminiscent of ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It,’ and brings the song to a stirring close. ‘My Pet Snakes’ is built on a bouncy back-beat and Lewis’ soaring, effortless vocals, as well as the witty lyrical interplay between the two singers, which comes across as effortless and natural throughout the entire album.
‘Switchblade’ and ‘Big Wave’ are the triumphant pinnacles to the record, simply brimming with the subtle allure of languid Americana and one of the year’s richest, most indelible melodies, respectively. It’s the latter tune that clearly epitomizes why this collaboration is a success, with a dynamic rhythm accompanying Rice’s insistent guitar riff, which perfectly accentuates Lewis’ honeyed vocals and underlying charm. They are, indeed, having fun now, which carries through the best moments of this release.
The missteps, when they come, are due to the songs getting bogged down by weightier topics than they are crafted to handle, with ‘Animal’ and ‘Slavedriver’ sounding awkward and tendentious due to their rather sober subject matter. On an album as pleasant and promising as this one, these songs just don’t seem to fit, and ruin the overall flow of the record. But the tongue-in-cheek absurdity of ‘New Yorker Cartoon’ and ‘Committed’ save the second half of the album from falling victim to any type of bloated self-seriousness, as the duo returns to the relaxed jocularity that works so well for them.
I’m Having Fun Now isn’t so much a documentation of the inner-workings of Lewis and Rice’s blossoming romance, but more of an insight into how the unique, expressive qualities that surely drew the two of them together mesh so harmoniously when they join creative forces. And as long as Jenny and Johnny keep things this ebullient and easy, the honeymoon period never has to come to an end.