Jenny Lewis' "Rise Up with Fists" was my favorite song of 2006, but nothing from her latest, Acid Tongue has hit me anywhere near that hard. I'm particularly baffled by "The Next Messiah," a nine-minute tuneless monstrosity that everyone else seems to like.
And "Carpetbaggers" isn't a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. It's a catchy little country-rock number reportedly written by Lewis' boyfriend, Johnathan Rice, during the Rabbit Fur Coat tour in an attempt to incorporate something upbeat in the tour repertoire. The melody, at least in the verses, is a blatant copping of Tom Petty's "Apartment Song" (though it simply must be stated that Rice's lyrics are far better than Petty's).
But the song itself doesn't matter. "Carpetbaggers" is driven into transcendence on the strength of its vocal performances. Lewis sounds as effortlessly sexy as she always does, half earnest and half sarcastic, half Midwestern, half Californian. I could listen to her sing a list of foreign cheeses, and it would probably make me want to cry.
And then Elvis Costello takes over the second verse as only Elvis Costello can. His sneering whine completely changes the tone of the song, and what was at first a sexy little tune about groupies becomes something more akin to "Alison" or "Pump It Up." I've always felt like Costello hates women--both his personal life and his lyrics back my theory up--and so it makes sense that Lewis and Rice would give him the lyric about his friend who wants to kill himself after getting married.
But no matter. The point is the way their voices mix together, these two great if unconventional singers who can wax postmodern and howl a new-blues howl at the same time.