Is Rilo Kiley’s New Album Supposed To Be A Joke?

This post arrives somewhere that I didn’t anticipate when I began it. Hopefully that justifies the fact that I’m blogging about an album I don’t even like instead of finishing Dialogue and Deconstruction: The Gadamer-Derrida Encounter.

Just my first time through “Under the Blacklight,” giving it an obligatory one listen despite bad impressions of the two tracks I’ve heard (“Moneymaker” and “Silver Lining”). So far, all polish and nothing worth listening to a second time. The sell-out factor was unmistakable as soon as I heard “Moneymaker,” as was the irony:

You’ve got the money maker
They showed the money to you
You showed them what you can do

…though it’s pretty easy to dismiss as an unfortunate coincidence – the joke’s on Rilo Kiley, who maybe doesn’t realize how bad this album sounds. But it’s hard to believe they’re not in on the joke when you start listening to, really, every song.

From the start, “Silver Lining” situates the album in the band’s catalogue:

And I’m not going back
Into rags or in the hole
And our bruises are coming
But we will never fold

And I was your silver lining
As the story goes
I was your silver lining
But now I’m gold

Hooray hooray
I’m your silver lining
Hooray hooray
But now I’m gold

Couldn’t have said it better. Rilo Kiley was nothing if not a silver lining, searching for the good that wouldn’t come out of them, striving in the mire of “Paints Peeling” and “The Execution of All Things” to be better sons and daughters and to cross that 16 miles to the promised land of “With Arms Outstretched,” finding not despair but comfort in the absence of God. But now they’ve made it to the majors. No more selling baseball cards just to pay the rent. They’re maxing out the new gold card on overproduction, and that “hooray hooray” couldn’t sound less enthusiastic. Though it scans as an act of self-possession (I was your silver lining, now I’m [my own] gold), Jenny Lewis nonetheless sounds almost guilty, if not nostalgic, as if trying to convince herself rather than her addressee that she had to move on, that it wasn’t enough for her to be someone else’s silver lining. Nevermind that, if this record sells despite its flaws, she’ll be someone else’s (Warner Brothers’) gold. Nevermind also how badly the song mixes metaphor… (“rags,” “in the hole,” “fold” in the first verse – someone must have forgotten the poker chips, I guess we’ll have to play with…rare metals?)

The breakup metaphor shows up again on track 4, “Breakin’ Up,” whose chorus asks “Am I breaking up? Are we breaking up?” It ponders the separation of Rilo Kiley from whoever Jenny Lewis has been singing to, and also the internal disolution of something that keeps calling itself by the same name: even if “we” aren’t breaking up, even if Rilo Kiley isn’t breaking up, “I” am breaking up, I am no longer myself, Rilo Kiley is no longer what it was. As track 2, “Close Call,” knows all too well the “Funny thing about money for sex: you might get rich but you die by it.” Is there any doubt that Rilo Kiley know exactly what they’ve committed themselves to here?

The verse of “Breakin’ Up” is fairly prophetic:

Here’s to all the pretty words
We will never speak
Here’s to all the pretty girls
You’re gonna meet

A fitting toast. Someone else will write the lyrics that Jenny Lewis isn’t delivering on this album.

But then, that’s the thing, if they’re in on the joke, the lyrics are somewhat brilliant. It’s nearly impossible to imagine that the mediocrity of this album on both the lyrical and musical level could be a sustained joke (I mean, seriously, they’re going to have to play these songs in concert again and again), but it’s equally hard to deny the guilty conscience that overdetermines everything on this album. The “I” breaking up here is also a sort of split consciousness. If it’s not conscious, sustained irony, maybe it’s at least a subtle dig at a studio that perhaps restrained the band’s creativity, or even an apology for being unable to resist the money. If you’ve heard the album: Are you picking this up? How are you reading it? And has anyone actually enjoyed the album?

The promised arrival is that, as I finish this post, I am reminded of previous effort to recuperate bad art on the basis of its self-consciousness of its failure. See my reading of 300 below (plus there’s that Matrix III reading I allude to in that post, but trust me, you really don’t want to hear it). I could also potentially connect that compulsion I feel towards bad jokes, as well as perhaps a reading of the avant-garde that I’ve yet to articulate. Such efforts seem indicative of a desire to subordinate aesthetics to hermeneutics, privileging the hard-won formal unity of the text over technical mastery or subjective reception. In lay terms, I don’t care how an album sounds if it seems smart to me. But this amounts to a certain re-aestheticization of formal perfection (which is, after all, tied to beauty in Kant). A work that re-inscribes its own failure achieves something almost like a beauty which is not unlike the silver lining the Rilo Kiley was on “Execution of All Things.” This perhaps justifies the repetition of “I was your silver lining” in the present tense in the “hooray” part of the chorus.

I’m somewhat disturbed by the fact that I’ve just confessed in a single breath to being both an aesthete and a hermeneut, but rather than write my way through that problem, I’m just gonna go ahead and hit “publish” and worry about it later.

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~ by Matt on September 23, 2007.

14 Responses to “Is Rilo Kiley’s New Album Supposed To Be A Joke?”

  1. “So far, all polish and nothing worth listening to a second time…”

    Most critics disagree:

    http://www.metacritic.com/music/artists/rilokiley/undertheblacklight

    including the onion AV club which I respect, giving it a rating of “A”

    I almost never listened to this album because this review was so overwhelmingly negative and dismissive. Glad I listened to it afterall. I think it’s fantastic.

  2. 69 on metacritic for a band that’s already put out some quality albums is hardly overwhelming support. Execution was an 80 and More Adventurous a 75, so if anything the critics are more often than not hearing this album as a drop off.

    Not that that really matters. I’m more interested in what the critics have to say about the album than about whether they like it. AV Club likes that the album has a lot of ideas, but so what if I don’t like those ideas? Uncut likes that it’s poppy. I have no problem with pop, but I’m not convinced this is good pop. I’m willing to give a hesitant nod to a few of the lyrics, but some, like the first few lines “Silver Lining” are inexcusably bad.

    So, Chester, I’m willing to give the album another listen if you can give me a hint at what to listen for, especially since you were kind enough to stop by and leave a comment. But since I don’t know you, I can’t really put a whole lot of stock into the mere fact that you personally thought it was fantastic. What are you hearing in it that I’m missing?

  3. 69 is a kiss-of-death rating. Here’s a starter question (incidentally, I loved this post and felt like a criminal for not immediately commenting) — how can we be sure that Jenny Lewis’s obvious jealous affection for other people and other unwritten words is a direct, knowing commentary on the album itself? I mean, how can we be sure, first of all, that Lewis views her acts of self-disclosure as admissions of failure rather than expressions of a common flawed humanity, and second, that she specifically identifies her moments of inarticulateness with the album itself?

  4. The truth is, I’m not at all sure. Irony doesn’t depend on intention – the point is often that the speaker doesn’t get the humorous implications of his or her statement, so the joke’s on him or her. It’s just that, well…how could they not get the irony? I mean, especially with Moneymaker as the single on an album where the first question of any critic is automatically going to about the move to a major label. How could they not have at least anticipated the jokes about the band’s moneymaker? But do I really believe a band would intentionally release an album they knew to be mediocre and then confess that mediocrity on the very same album? It seems like a stretch. So I think, really, my impetus for writing this post is that, on an intuitive level, I really don’t feel comfortable concluding either that the irony is deliberate or that it’s not. I’m sort of boggled, and mostly curious if anyone else is getting the same impression.

    As for admission of failure vs. expression of a common flawed humanity, sure, either way – in fact, the latter probably fits my reading better (it would make more sense that this is an album that knows itself to be deeply flawed in some redeeming way than that it is an album that knows itself to be unredeemable; and after all, this post is a half-assed shot at a redeeming it, even if it’s already on its way off my iPod…).

    Glad you enjoyed the post.

  5. Right, so the follow-up question is obviously, “but you said it was a self-conscious failure…” I meant that the album is self-consciousness, that it ends up talking about its own flaws, not that the artist necessarily knew the album’s flaws. The tension between the obviousness of the former and the total uncertainty of the latter is, I think, kind of the point.

    In terms of my comment on your Valve post, Joe, you could say that the self-consciousness is structural rather than empirical or psychological.

  6. I wanted to let you know that upon wandering over here from
    the Valve and reading your account of 300, I found myself
    interested in seeing the film–or, to be more precise, convinced that it would be worth seeing. Maybe I reveal
    my snobbery when I say that I would hardly have thought it
    possible. But the reading is wonderful (and, for better or
    worse, that does seem to suffice in my case). As for the
    phantom second post, I take pleasure in imagining that it
    would have achieved perfect form.

  7. Why thank you, John. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. from todays perspective this review is so messed up, must have been written in the affect. similarly i hate killers so much right now for releasing human and other mediocre songs on the mediocre album, but come on, silver lining and breaking up are the higlights of the 2007.

  9. Nope, still don’t like it at all. Don’t really like the Killers either. Sorry.

  10. You are a typical, tasteless “I liked them when others didn’t know about them” douche, and you and your like have been wrong for all of history.

  11. Oh, and deconstructionism is a big waste of time.

  12. I find your theories intriguing and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

  13. Interesting. I didn’t think I would come across someone who reads the Relaciones Geográficas and reviews Rilo Kiley on the same site. This is what I get for google searching “relaciones geográficas” instead of reading the articles I know I should be.
    Personally, I think the album is catchy and even creative, even if it lacks in the soul-searching depth of her first solo album.
    I would call it ‘okay’ but not great. I don’t think I have the patience to review albums so it’s certainly not up to me to criticize your opinion. I can tell you from personal experience that those of us (I include myself here) who over-intellectualize the music we listen to might often lose sight over the role of the artist – to use their medium to explore shared (and personal) experiences. I think the break-up refers to her breakup with her guitarist (hence the shifting between I / we) but I could be wrong. And finally, give the album a try when you’ve been driving alone for several hours and you need to stay awake.

  14. i hated this album the first couple times i listened to it. Once i got over my expectations of what a rilo kiley album should be, based on their previous work, i fell in love with it. you can’t blame a band for trying new things, especially when a long time indie band takes a step into mainstream. i think they handled it pretty creatively, not to mention the subject matter is anything but the record selling norm.

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