Under the Blacklight
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2007, Volume 14, #9
Written by John Metzger
Mon September 24, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
With More Adventurous, Rilo Kiley succeeded in defying the odds that typically are stacked against indie artists that are making the jump to a major label. In the wake of Under the Blacklight, the groupís recently issued, follow-up endeavor, however, the walls of invincibility that had given it cover come crumbling down in a heap. The problem stems from the notion that Rilo Kiley wants to have it all. It plays to its indie rock base by broadening its palette and trying on for size an eclectic array of styles, and it tends to its mainstream aspirations by concocting a song cycle that never for a minute loses sight of its commercial viability.
For a band that titled its sophomore set The Execution of All Things, Rilo Kiley seems to have forgotten the simple lesson that chasing its whims in a random fashion doesnít necessarily lead to the most cohesive album. Itís not enough simply to have a solid plan of attack; the blueprint that is created also must be followed. Itís not entirely clear at what point in the process of recording Under the Blacklight that Rilo Kiley went astray. Itís likely, though, that the outfit ventured into the studio with a sketchy outline of what it wanted to accomplish, and then, dazzled by the resources that were at its disposal, it tried to incorporate everything it could into its work.
Lyrically, Under the Blacklight reflects and exposes the seedy underbelly of western society, and more specifically, it paints an unflattering portrait of life in and around Los Angeles. Sex is the driving force here, and Rilo Kiley revels in the dangerous paths on which its characters tread as much as it warns of the impending doom that lurks over their hedonistic lives. The concept is one that ought to work, and Rilo Kiley does manage to tuck a few, killer turns-of-phrase into the set. Overall, however, the ensembleís tales lack the dimensionality that is needed to make them resonate.
Nevertheless, the biggest problem with Under the Blacklight lies with the music, and perhaps, if its arrangements had been more focused, Rilo Kiley would have been able to provide better support for its lyrics. Throughout the collection, the band shifts from the twisting, writhing, Cure-like dirge of Close Call to the disco beat of Breakiní Up, and from the Pat Benatar-does-country drive of The Angels Hung Around to the slick, synthetic R&B-imbued ambience of Give a Little Love. Instead of daringly juxtaposing its ideas, however, its whiplash-inducing transitions fall flat. Even worse, when the group grafts a key riff from The Whoís Baba OíRiley onto the country-soul ensconced 15, it fails in its bid to be clever. As a result, its allusions to a teenage wasteland are so heavy-handed that they come across as completely contrived.
By contrast, songs such as Smoke Detector and Dreamworld demonstrate the potential that Under the Blacklight had, especially when they are taken in conjunction with the endeavorís overarching thematic flow. On the former track, The Byrds are cast across the Mersey, injected with a dose of glam, and dolled up to look like Liz Phair covering the Rolling Stones. The latter cut slams the twinkling star-shine of both The Church and The Cure directly into the shimmering, folk-pop of Lindsey Buckinghamís work with Fleetwood Mac. Although Under the Blacklight is, when viewed as a whole, an underwhelming affair, moments such as these provide proof that the ensembleís artistic vision hasnít dissipated completely. Whether Rilo Kiley can bounce back from its current downward slide remains to be seen, but provided that the distracting side projects of front gal Jenny Lewis are kept to a minimum, Under the Blacklight very well may prove to be a fluke, one that builds character from the lessons that can be learned from its flaws.
Of Further Interest...
Under the Blacklight is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box