Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 88
Fri. April 26, 2013
“The Next Messiah [featuring Johnathan Rice]”
on a day/
You can tell immediately from the cover of 2008’s Acid Tongue that Jenny Lewis was moving along from her romantic countrified flavor of Rabbit Fur Coat. First off you’ll notice that it’s only Lewis sans The lovely Watson Twins. The emotion of Acid Tongue reminded me of the spirit of Sting’s album …Nothing Like the Sun, it felt like Lewis first record was a lyrical paean to her mother, while her next record, see Sting’s Soul Cages, was a more darkened ballad to her absentee father. [Editor’s Note: Sting wrote and recorded two albums back to back dedicated to his parents: 1987’s Sun honored his mother and 1991’s Soul Cages was his ode to his Dad] Sting and Lewis musically may be ages apart but thematically speaking, I like to think great lyrical minds do think alike.
Talking about Acid Tongue’s opus, “The Next Messiah” Jenny Lewis recalled writing about her dad when she told Under The Radar, “That’s my favorite song on the record,” she explains. “It was sort of a subconscious thing. I didn’t sit down and set out to write a song about him. It just sort of came out in this phrase ‘The Next Messiah,’ which he’s not,” she laughs. “He doesn’t know [the song is about him]. He hasn’t heard it yet. Considering that I gave it to my mom on my last record, he’s due his. But I got so tired of singing about my mother for Rabbit Fur Coat that I had to kill her off on this record with ‘Jack Killed Mom.’ Poor mom.”
Of course, all this talk about Jenny Lewis killing her Mother off is all, of course, metaphorically speaking. But there is a seriously strong male presence on Acid Tongue, Elvis Costello and Lewis beau Johnathan Rice contribute heavily to the sound of Lewis’s 2008 record and that’s not by accident. Go back and listen to Rabbit Fur Coat and Lewis voice sounds hushed and very quiet but on Acid Tongue you can feel the sensual confidence oozing from her vocals with her duet with Elvis Costello on “Carpetbaggers;” but I believe you can really feel the difference of Lewis’ vocal in Jenny’s favorite cut “The Next Messiah.” You can hear why, confessing to Greg Kot from the Chicago Tribune, describing “Messiah” as, ““It’s an ode to Barbra Streisand and the devil.”
Later, Lewis explained to The AV Club how collaboration with Johnathan Rice helped bring “The Next Messiah” to life, when she said, “Actually, those were three separate songs that Johnathan and I wrote together. We just played them around the house for six months as different entities, and then we just started talking about stringing them together. I’m a big Barbra Streisand fan, and I think the first time I ever heard a medley was on one of her records. So we just put them together and it was so fun coming up with the transitions, because if you’re slowing down to get to the second part, we had to speed up to get to the outro. It was just totally exhilarating arranging that song and then recording it in the studio, because if one person messed up at the seven-minute mark, can you imagine the dirty looks he or she got from the band?”
Although Lewis believes that “Messiah” is her ode to Barbra Streisand, it sounds like Lewis had more of a McCartney Ram and Beatles’ Abbey Road ‘Medley’ kind of feel – as if it was sung by Jenny a-la June Carter Cash and Lewis renewed gentleman in black— Johnny Rice. Jenny may have composed her favorite Acid Tongue song with her father in mind, if you listen to her lyrics it sounds like Lewis may have found true love with her paramour and collaborating singer Johnathan Rice. Rice explained to Under The Radar about what he adores about Jenny Lewis when he said, “I had never seen any of her work, and I think that’s one of the reasons that we get along. I always knew of Jenny as a musician and songwriter. Then she told me all about that early stuff. One of the things that is remarkable about Jenny is that, more than anyone I know, she has the most dense life. There are just so many layers that make her who she is, just because of the way she grew up. What makes her so unique as a songwriter is her perspective on life and the way things are. What comes through to me in the writing is that it is shaped by a very long lifetime. You and I, we weren’t working when we were kids. We were just being kids. So her perspective is so unique. I can’t really think of anyone else who is doing it today that has that kind of perspective. I really think that sets her apart in so many ways. When you go see Jenny play—whether with her own band, or Rilo Kiley, or The Postal Service—she has it all. She can sing the shit out of a song, and she writes the shit out of a song, and she can perform the shit out of a song. There’s such a lack of emphasis on performance nowadays—the art of captivation. She has that for sure.”
One thing Jenny will have by her side is the unwavering belief of her beloved Johnathan Rice who compared Lewis to the greats when he told Under The Radar, “You look at all the great ones—the Dylan’s and Neil Young’s—there’s that period of white-hot consistent output. Over two or three years and there are three or four fantastic records. I think Jenny is doing her own version of that. She’s been releasing a record a year for the past five or six years, and that’s a pace that most bands don’t keep up with nowadays with the way the industry is and cycles go, but she has always worked outside of that. She just works as quickly as she wants to, and as soon as she has all of the outlets, she’s able to use the industry in her favor. If she gets tired, she’ll take a long walk or get a drink of water.” If Jenny Lewis keeps creating quench worthy classics like “The Next Messiah”, I will be eternally thirsty for her Acid Tongue type songs for years to come.
All you have to do is put your ear to her vinyl and you will definitely hear the connection when Jenny and Johnny croon together and yes that modern day Cash and yes that comparison is definitely a compliment. I truly hope Jenny Lewis and Johnny Rice continue making beautiful music together. Because if it sounds anything like “The Next Messiah”—sign me up, I have seen the light am a true believer in the music of Johnathan Rice and voice of Jenny Lewis.