“Completely Not Me”
by Chad Jewett
“Completely Not Me” gives us a Jenny Lewis we’ve only seen in fits and starts; it also gives us a Jenny Lewis I’ve been waiting for since More Adventurous. In some sense a bit sidetracked by a Laurel-Canyon-country-rock gear that was perhaps just a bit more fun for Lewis than anyone else (and who can blame her, she absolutely owns the honky-tonk-chanteuse role), even if it was always fun, you got the feeling that we’d get her absolute best whenever Jenny Lewis found a way to fit the R&B of Under The Blacklight into the kind of lived-in, homey warmth that you sense whenever she’s telling stories as opposed to working through concepts (Under The Blacklight was better than anyone remembers it, but still felt intangibly like a theoretical thing). In other words, we’re past due for Jenny to find this kind of soul music, fulfilling all that potential glimpsed on “Rise Up With Fists!!” and “Portions for Foxes.” Lewis is underrated as a music obsessive whose skill set always managed to elevate her fandom up over pastiche; you could tell when she had Dusty Springfield or Stevie Nicks on her mind, but that she’d also be damned to be anything other than competition for her own record collection. But now it’s about time she find that second crate, the one with all the Motown stuff.
Set over clattering, big echo drums and a charming lace of piano, “Completely Not Me” (from the soundtrack for Girls Season 2) feels, above all else, like the kind of January song only possible in Los Angeles, the only place in the United States where this kind of major-key-Smokey-Robinson-love doesn’t sound perversely out of place. Instead, and possibly because Jenny Lewis sounds as glad to be back as we are to have her, the song is lovely and soaked in all those melodies that you’d assume have been building up since the Jenny and Johnny record in 2010. Like that album, Lewis is embracing her most unique quality, the ability to make grown-up problems sound like forget-it-all joy, the coy dissonance between two verses’ worth of anxieties and absolute zero interest in singing anything that couldn’t serve as a hook. Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij had a hand in the song’s construction and it shows; “Completely Not Me” has some of that magic left over from Modern Vampires Of The City, a studio-as-instrument product that never lets all that technology serve anything other than capital-p Pop. It’s a seemingly re-energized version of Lewis that recalls Rilo Kiley in a way that feels even more poignant on the heels of the heartbreakingly lovely RKives collection. Given the ways in which Jenny Lewis has always been able to communicate the version of herself that has defined each of her albums (the weary poet of More Adventurous, the Hollywood cynic of Under the Blacklight, the 50’s B-movie femme fatale of I’m Having Fun Now), it’s no small surprise to glimpse such a promising possibility in this new mode: pop chameleon. 2013 was a year when great artists found ways to share their brand-name selves with symphonies of pop expanse (and expense). Imagine what that could sound like with a story-teller like Lewis and a maestro like Batmanglij? It feels about right that, even on a song that warns “Completely Not Me,” we’re not surprised that it’s Jenny Lewis.