I’m Having Fun Now is the title of Jenny and Johnny’s album, but it also serves as a summary for what the debut sounds like. Indie dream girl Jenny Lewis is joined by her boyfriend and musical collaborator, Johnathan Rice, for 36 minutes of light, folky pop.
Lewis made a name for herself with indie outfit Rilo Kiley, a group which released four beloved albums in the past decade and has been on hiatus since 2007′s Under the Blacklight. When former Saddle Creek labelmate (and not to mention indie heavy-hitter in his own right) Conor Oberst offered her the opportunity to record a solo album, she jumped on it, resulting in 2006′s Rabbit Fur Coat, a beautiful, personal, self-described “kind of soul record.”
Lewis followed her solo debut with 2008′s Acid Tongue. That record, while lovely, is a little flaccid compared to its predecessor. Rice released his first album, Trouble Is Real, in 2005, and his sophomore effort, Further North, in 2007. He also produced Acid Tongue.
Although their names sound suspiciously similar, Jenny and Johnny’s music is not as influenced by She & Him as I feared they might be. She & Him do sleepy covers of ’60s pop, but J. and J. serve up nostalgic ballads of romance (“Switchblade”) and driving rock and roll with lyrics like “I don’t believe in sucking your way to the top/Fingers crossed you’re flipping me off” (“My Pet Snakes”).
It’s good to hear almost equal representation of both members; Lewis sings lead on most songs, but Rice gets his turn too. They both sing back-up for each other, highlighting the harmonic blend of their voices. The lyrics are smart, sweet at times and biting at others. “It’s a real shame you don’t drive/Since you don’t drink, you should be driving me around” remarks Lewis in “Straight Edge of the Blade.” The music is catchy, with jangly guitars and fun, poppy drum beats.
This album is a difficult one to really allow Lewis to show off her vocal chops; it’s a pop record. But I hope that on her next effort, this songbird adopts a style similar to Rabbit Fur Coat, where her vocals were at their best, most versatile, and most beautiful.
It also does drag a bit into predictability at times, and it would be nice to be surprised. When The Shins’ James Mercer teamed up with DJ Danger Mouse to form Broken Bells, their album sounded exactly as one would imagine it. The same concept applies to Jenny and Johnny. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but being predictable can be one step away from being irrelevant in the indie music world.
Luckily, I don’t think either member of Jenny and Johnny will become irrelevant any time soon. Lewis still has fans hanging on her every word, and Rice will continue to make records like this one and produce quality music.
I’m Having Fun Now, while pleasant, technically good, and completely listenable, isn’t groundbreaking stuff. It’s worth listening to, and worth buying if you even remotely like what you hear. If my experiences with past Jenny Lewis projects are any indication, it will grow on you. Then you can be “having fun” along with Jenny and Johnny for a while.