I fell for Rilo Kiley when I heard More Adventurous – a record that comprising a wonderful mix of musical styles, lyrical subjects and emotional tones; by turns dramatic, passionate, musing, amused. It isn’t perfect, but just about everything is catchy, aesthetically gorgeous, tuneful, richly and carefully detailed, and lyrically interesting, so that it gets even better with repeat listens. I dropped it for a while and recently returned fairly obsessively to it, amidst renewed appreciation for Rilo Kiley’s newest album Under the Blacklight… but that’s another blog entry for another day.

Lead guitarist Blake Sennett is due tremendous credit for the lovely guitar-playing – including all sorts of beautiful effects, whether crunching electric riffs, folkish acoustic, shimmering picking, legato phrases, layered lead lines, rhythmic plucking, harpsichord-like tinkling. Then there is Jason Boesel’s light, intuitively agile, warm and superbly detailed drumming. And of course, Jenny Lewis’ remarkable voice: a clean, bright, warm mezzo-soprano, capable of shading from sweet to ferocious; delicate to strong; spare to full-blown and back again… But the main strength of More Adventurous is the amazing songwriting.

I was rather surprised to recognise ‘I Never’ – which I’d first encountered in the film Must Love Dogs – since I’d never (haha) knowingly heard Rilo Kiley before. It was used quite appropriately in the film: Diane Lane’s character haplessly falls for a charming cad to Jenny Lewis’s confession that ‘I’m only a woman/ Of flesh and bone’. (Yes, I’ve watched this film quite a few times – it’s got John Cusack in it.) This is a seemingly straightforward soul number, complete with big voice, organ chords, strings and even a male chorus going ‘ah-ooh’; but with structural and lyrical tricks. Jenny declares – no less than 50 times – that

I never … loved somebody

The way that I loved you.

And what a triumphant declaration it is, followed as it is by a dramatic coda of electric riffs that sweep you along to the song’s conclusion.

‘Does He Love You?’ was the next song to strike me: an indelible, emotionally-wrought adultery song, with a musical and lyrical narrative twist of the knife at the end. Lewis’ envy of her friend’s perfect marriage suddenly becomes entirely too personal:

Late at night, I get the phone

You’re at the shop sobbin’ all alone

Your confession is coming out

You only married him, you felt your time was running out

But now you love him, and your baby

At last you are complete

But he’s distant and you found him on the phone pleading

Saying ‘Baby I love you and I’ll leave her and I’m comin’ out to California’

Let’s not forget ourselves, good friend

I am flawed if I’m not free

And your husband will never leave you

He will never leave you for me

In quite a different vein is ‘Portions for Foxes’, where Lewis sweetly and blithely admits ‘Baby, I’m bad news/I’m just bad news, bad news, bad news’. The song is a veritable showcase for various guitar tricks. Swirling bell-like notes alternate with drum-led crunching chords, mandolin-like vibrato, percussive plucking, and pulsing legato harmonies… The lyrics are solidly pessimistic, but are sung with an endearing air of cheerful unrepentance:

I know I’m alone if I’m with or without you

But just being around you offers me another form of relief

When the loneliness leads to bad dreams

And the bad dreams lead me to calling you

And I call you and say… ‘C’mere!’

‘It’s a Hit’ was Robert Christgau’s Song of the Year for 2004. Not hard to see why: it is smart, verbose, reflective, political, philosophical, and… funny. To a catchy tune and cheery instrumental accompaniments (including Christmas-time type jingling bells), Lewis observes wryly that

Any chimp can play human for a day

Use his opposable thumbs to iron his uniform

And run for office on election day

Fancy himself a real decision maker

And deploy more troops than salt in a shaker

But it’s a jungle when war is made

And you’ll panic and throw your own shit at the enemy

The camera pulls back to reveal your true identity

Look, it’s a sheep in wolf’s clothing

A smoking gun-holding ape

[…]

Any fool can play executioner for a day

And say with fingers pointed in both directions ‘He went that-away’

It’s only a switch or syringe, ah-huh

Exempt from eternal sins

But you still wear a cross

And you think you’re gonna get in

Ah, but the pardons never come from upstairs

They’re always a moment too late

But it’s entertainment, keep the crowd on their toes

It’s justice, we’re safe

It’s not a hit, it’s a holiday

Shoo-bop shoo-bop, my baby

The title tune describes one girl’s breathtakingly total and complete submission to love, set to a sweet country melody, with beautifully tuneful steel guitar and harmonica. Would that we were all as brave and articulate and witty.

I read, with every broken heart

We should become more adventurous

And if you banish me from your profits

And if I get banished from the kingdom up above

I’d sacrifice money and heaven all for love

Let me be loved, let me be loved

[…]

And maybe ours is the cause of all mankind:

Get loved, make more, try to stay alive.