Album Review of Jenny and Johnny’s I’m Having Fun Now

08/27/2010

In Love?

As far as indie rock couples go, Jenny and Johnny have earned their royal status and on the strength of I’m Having Fun Now, I hope they continue their fruitful relationship for years to come. Besides the cover of “Handle With Care” that Lewis recorded a few years back with help of indielords, ahem, Monsters of Folk, Ben Gibbard, Conor Oberst and M. Ward, it’s got the best stuff I’ve heard from her since Rilo Kiley’s glory days. Since she is slightly more famous and pretty than her paramour, I suspect that Lewis will get a bit more of the spotlight and credit for the strong work on I’m Having Fun Now. Her inimitable sense of whimsy remains but its been suffused with cheeriness in place of the sometimes airy sorrow of her most recent work, which I can’t help but attribute to Johnny Rice’s presence in the studio and, well, her life. This is a very focused record, as if the emotion connection between its two main architects acted as a guide during the entire recording process. You can easily imagine these two making goo goo eyes at one another across the amps, spare guitars, loose wires and microphones before sneaking off to the sound engineer’s office to make out. It totally works. They aren’t quite June Carter and Johnny Cash but I don’t think the resemblance is coincidental.

Pensive Love

As a team, their understated harmonies strike the right tone. When their voices diverge, it also works rather well. Rice often takes the less prominent role and lets Lewis carry the melodies, such as on the sunny, infectious “Big Wave.” He does, however, take the lead quite successfully on one of the album’s best songs, “Switchblade.” On this track, his initial melancholy is almost perfectly counterbalanced by a wonderfully simple chorus where he and the ever mellifluous Lewis have a singsongy back and forth. These kind of thoughtful arrangements are typical of the album, where an ethic of simplicity prevails. This also means that they smartly rely on vocals to do most of the work. Other strong tracks are “Scissor Runner” and “While Men Are Dreaming,” a delicate and spare play on a nursery rhyme that avoids becoming precious by way of its brevity.

Clingy Love

The record does have its missteps. “New Yorker Cartoon” is a meandering sequence of non-sequiturs over repetitive guitars and drums until their plaintive voices claim “they look like a New Yorker cartoon.” Snooze is right. “Animal” begins with Johnny making the ridiculous claim that “We must modernize Jerusalem.” I wasn’t sure if he was proposing a two-state system or an independent Palestine and it was unfortunately distracting. One day throwaway references to New York related neighborhoods and cultural monuments or vaguely political statements designed to prove some intellectual or moral cred will disappear, we can hope. “Animal” is redeemed slightly by a catchy chorus of Jenny and Johnny’s go-to harmonies but it almost feels like a cop out. That said, to pick a track that most embodies the record’s mood, it would be “Just Like Zeus,” where the two sing “there is nothing else I’d rather do.” Playful, upbeat and sincere, it signals the two at their best and, on the whole, it’s a lovely thing.

By Will Clarke

Jenny and Johnny: Big Wave