MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The Los Angeles-based band Rilo Kiley is fronted by Jenny Lewis. She's a former child actress. And our music critic, Robert Christgau, says on her band's new CD, she seems to enjoy plain roles.
ROBERT CHRISTGAU: Jenny Lewis has the clear voice and honest melodicism of a guitar-strumming angel. But she is so forthright about sex and so good to look at that some might mistake her for a pop starlet on the make, like Rihanna or the pitiable Britney Spears.
(Soundbite of song "The Moneymaker")
Ms. JENNY LEWIS (Vocalist, Rilo Kiley): (Singing) You've got the moneymaker. They showed the money to you. You showed them what you can do. Show them your money. Make you get out, out, out, oh, yeah. You'll get out, out, out, oh, yeah.
CHRISTGAU: In case you didn't guess, that one's called "Moneymaker" from Rilo Kiley's new album "Under the Blacklight," which does perhaps suggest the pop starlet on the make.
On the 2004 breakthrough CD, "More Adventurous," the band favored square beats, flowing melodies, and wordy lyrics that were comprehensible as sound and sense. But "Rabbit Fur Coat," Lewis's terrific 2006 one-off project with the Watson Twins, apparently sated her folk-rock yearnings. So in "Under the Blacklight" she conspires with pop/hip-hop producer Mike Elizondo on an album that seems designed to pay its respects to Top 40 radio.
(Soundbite of song "Dejalo")
Ms. LEWIS: (Singing) I've got a mind if you want to waste it. I've got a man if you want to fake it. I've got someone if you want to get wasted. I've got a place if you want to. Where did you go? Where did you go? Where did you go? Where did you go? I've got a tail if you want to chase it. I've got a toy if you want to taste it. I've got a place on the East Side. I've got some time if you want to. Where did you go? Where did you go? Where did you go? Just say so. Dejalo, nuestra cosa. Dejalo…
CHRISTGAU: But paying your respects to pop radio isn't the same thing as prostrating yourself before it, and unlike, for instance, chart-topping Nelly Furtado, who has also worked with Elizondo, Jenny Lewis isn't likely to take Rilo Kiley gold here. Certainly not on the song I just played, "Dejalo," which goes on: My mama is an atheist. If I stay out late, she don't get pissed. Nor is she likely to make a hit of 15 about a teenager who's, quote, "down for almost anything." Nor with "Close Call," about an adult getting, quote, "money for sex." Nor with "Smoke Detector."
(Soundbite of song "Smoke Detector")
Ms. LEWIS: (Singing) I took a man back to my room. I was smoking in bed. Yeah, I was smoking in bed. This is what he said. I said danger. Do the smoke detector. I said danger. Do the smoke detector. I said danger. Do the smoke detector. I said danger. Do the smoke detector.
CHRISTGAU: Nothing on the new album is quite as brilliant as the Bush-bashing "It's a Hit," or the triple persona, "A Man/Me/Then Jim," on the last Rilo Kiley album. But the band's new musical tack suits Lewis's crucial thematic preoccupation.
Unlike the average Hollywood hussy, Jenny Lewis has not just the beauty but the brains to be searching about her own sex appeal. She's not vain about it, but she isn't apologetic about it either. Just like the Justin Timberlake-style matinee idols, pop is always throwing in our faces. This female will try to love you. And when things don't work out, she'll wonder who's at fault harder than the average guy. But in the end, que sera sera.
(Soundbite of song "Breaking Up")
Ms. LEWIS: (Singing) Ooh, ah, it feels good to free.
BLOCK: Our reviewer, Robert Christgau, contributing editor with Rolling Stone magazine. The new CD from Rilo Kiley is called "Under the Blacklight." There's more music from the CD at npr.org where you can also hear a live concert by Jenny Lewis.