There is one universal truth that all indie music fans eventually have to come to grips with – inevitably almost all of the best indie bands will take a foray into the mainstream. It may be as minute as dipping their proverbial toes into the water in the form of a radio-ready song or two or it may be as major as an entire album. Either way, it’s a move that tends to alienate diehard fans.
Rilo Kiley’s new album, Under The Blacklight, may not go so far as to completely alienate the band’s existing fans, but it will certainly confuse and disappoint many. By the same token, in a few months, Rilo Kiley could be the next big musical sensation sweeping the country. Either way, Under The Blacklight, is a huge departure from the band’s previous releases.
With four studio albums under the band’s belt, as well as the completion of recent solo projects by lead singer Jenny Lewis and lead guitarist Blake Sennett, it’s no surprise that the band’s poppy sound on Under The Blacklight is decidedly different from the folksier sounds of Take-Offs and Landings, the electronic influenced alternative rock on The Execution of All Things and the bitter but beautiful narratives of More Adventurous. Just as Under The Blacklight marks the band’s first official album as a major-label band, so too does it mark Rilo Kiley’s most wholly radio-ready release to date.
That does not mean it is bad – just different. The album lacks the musical and lyrical cohesiveness of the band’s earlier releases, instead veering wildly from the bass-heavy rock of “The Moneymaker” to straight-up salsa on “Dejalo,” ska stylings on “15” and a brief return to the band’s indie-country roots on “The Angels Hung Around.” By and large, the witty wordplay and innocent irreverence that has become Lewis’ trademark is superseded by the heavy beats that form the core of most of the album’s songs, leaving listeners wondering where all the wit went.
However, the album does feature standout tracks like “Breakin’ Up” – in which bad cell phone connections become a metaphor for a bad relationship – and “Dreamworld,” which marks Sennett’s return to the lead mic and is garnering the band comparisons to Fleetwood Mac. Sure, Rilo Kiley’s strong suit has always been its lyrical stylings, and many of the lyrics on Under The Blacklight would sound right at home coming out of the mouths of Jessica Simpson, Mandy Moore or any other similarly-talented pop songstress. But, the album does have a tendency to grow on you. It may not be a staggering work of musical genius, and it definitely does not compare to the band’s previous releases. But it’s catchy, and it’s infectious. And in the end, it may be much more mainstream pop than Rilo Kiley fans are used to, but at least its mainstream pop done very, very right.