Monday, January 21, 2008

The top 10 albums of 2007: No. 7

Rilo Kiley
Under the Blacklight

In Under the Blacklight, Rilo Kiley is Fleetwood Mac. Jenny Lewis is Stevie Nicks. Blake Sennett is Lindsey Buckingham. California is California, as sunny and as seedy as it was in the '70s.

With romantic friction and a power struggle at play, Lewis and Sennett pull Rilo Kiley away from their plainer, somewhat rangy beginnings and toward the streamlined, studio-polished pop-rock that their parents might have listened to. "Dreamworld," in particular, would sound right at home sandwiched between Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt. The Lewis-Sennett vocal interplay, along with the steady beat and easy wash of electric guitar, recalls Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams." (Perhaps the title itself is an homage.)

Lewis, consciously or unconsciously, has picked up Nicks' vocal characteristics. That's apparent on "Close Call," in which her post-chorus flourishes fall somewhere between a coo and a yodel. The stylistic fusion adds impact and catchiness to Rilo Kiley's sound.

Like any number of classic California albums, Under the Blacklight has enough shine to give you a tan. "Silver Lining" finds its chirpy guitar in another '70s touchstone, George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord." The island-flavored "Dejalo" breaks out the steel drums. "Breakin' Up" and "Give a Little Love" skip along to synth and chime.

And when the sun goes down, the action's just getting started. Lewis' vocals squirm as the rhythm section thrusts on "The Moneymaker," about people selling their bodies for cash. A little later, the title track guides us through the valley (probably the San Fernando Valley), where the moon and the night sky make that black light at the club look like nothin'. "15" and its swell of horns bring a teen girl into the picture. She's a knockout. And a man "deep like a graveyard" who gets tangled up with her finds out that she's only ... well, you know. Then again, he might have had an inkling of her age, as Lewis characterizes him as "a spider on the web."

For casual listeners nodding along to the music, learning of tension between Lewis and Sennett might come as a surprise. But there are plenty of hints of strife in the lyrics, as there were in some Fleetwood Mac recordings. Nicks and Buckingham quit the band twice and returned twice, along with making solo albums and handling other business during full-band hiatuses.

Like Nicks and Buckingham, Lewis and Sennett have spent time apart, working on albums where they call the shots (and maybe try to outdo each other). Lewis collaborated with the Watson Twins on Rabbit Fur Coat, released in 2006. Sennett led The Elected in the creation of 2004's Me First and 2006's Sun, Sun, Sun.

So although the implications are twofold when Lewis sings, "Are we breakin' up?", the question shouldn't be that scary. Because even if Rilo Kiley do break up, chances are they'll get back together.

Assuming, of course, that they're still Fleetwood Mac.

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