CD Review: Rilo Kiley

Under the Blacklight Warner Bros.
Music ••½ Sound •••

I can't tell you precisely where the fine line between clever and smug kicks in for me as a listener, but suffice it to say that on their Big Time-aspiring major-league debut, former indie-rockers Rilo Kiley cross it, and with room to spare.

Maybe it's the smog, but there does seem to be something in the air that makes certain L.A. musicians produce work that's infused with an ironic detachment designed to help it play both sides of the boulevard of cool. Listening to a song like the faux-1960s dance-craze number "Smoke Detector" - which, naturally, comes complete with both twist beat and British Invasion guitar - I hear the same cone-of-hipness that shielded, say, "Werewolves of London" or "My Sharona." So it goes with most of this CD's generic, underwhelming music, which keeps quoting bits of old rock, pop, and dance hits ("My Sweet Lord," "Stayin' Alive," etc.) to no real purpose except maybe garnering nod-nod/wink-wink Brownie points.

Significantly, "Smoke Detector" is a tune about sex that is, yes, smart ("I was smoking in bed / This is what he said") but no, not sexy - at all. And that's a trait it shares with many of the below-the-belt-themed tracks on Under the Blacklight, including "15" (about an underage girl finding lust and danger on the Internet), "Dejalo" (concerning a threesome), and the sleazy, self-explanatory "The Moneymaker." Then again, making these songs feel more real and less constructed would probably have demanded some actual emotional exposure from lead singer and chief songwriter Jenny Lewis, who, perhaps not surprisingly, is a former child actress - and clearly intent on milking this cold-as-ice persona for all it's worth. Will it play in Peoria? Time will tell, I suppose. But for now, color me Turned Off.

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