Album titles are always an intriguing nugget of information to chip away at for meaning. Rilo Kiley’s fourth album, Under the Blacklight (now under the major label Warner Bros) isn’t any different. Even Blacklight’s purple tinted jewel case evokes the ubiquitous image of forensic investigators ferreting for the scandalous part in any sex related crime case – trace evidence. It’s either that or the portrayal of any 70s bedroom. Rilo Kiley’s latest is far from a hard-nosed conceptual album about sex but rather an album with a concept the band wears like a flashy ring. After a three year break peppered with solo albums from band leader Jenny Lewis and lead guitarist Blake Sennett, Rilo Kiley’s return abandons some of their alt-country attachments found on earlier releases. The new aesthetics they’ve adopted are altogether new and lethargic.
Jenny Lewis’ voyeuristic interest in L.A.’s porn industry leads to songs about its possible destructive outcomes on the ringing single The Moneymaker. Sennett’s endlessly underappreciated guitar work is taught and slinky. It’s about the best thing going for this dead-eyed song about sex and all the travails coupled with it. Lewis may make indie fan-boys drool when her coos bursts into sexy siren bursts but it comes across as just another celebrity wearing their muse like a fur coat. In this case the muses are the men and women who devastate their innocence at a young age. Maybe Lewis feels a connection growing up under the studio lights.
All of this doesn’t mean that Lewis’ seductive vocals are any less effective on other tracks. She’s a cat, a sleazy frat girl, she’s anything she wants to be and Blacklight runs along the same lines. In parts they channel Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage (Dreamworld) and old school funk (Dejalo), running the gamut from coy and innocent to dark and growling. The best example of Rilo Kiley approaching a track that captures the full essence of how the seedy porn industry can scar appears on the unsettling brass-tinged soul of 15. It follows the story of a fifteen year-old girl who’s “bruised like a cherry and ripe as a peach.” and an internet predator who’s “as deep as a graveyard.” The musical narrative here is closer to being fully realized, something that critics heralded More Adventurous for in 2004.
Some of Jenny Lewis’ fans may see some scant parallels between the unyielding porn industry and signing to a major label like Warner Bros. – an emotion that tears through Close Call as Lewis emotes “the funny thing about money for sex / you might get rich but you die by it.” Pushing moot debates aside, Under the Blacklight lacks any real focus, flitting like a sex junkie from fix to fix. It makes one pine for the simple days when Rilo Kiley songs didn’t sound like they were on an adult-oriented radio station or a bad nightmare in the world of Boogie Nights.