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Rilo Kiley seems like a weird choice for burn-or-burn scrutiny: Nobody from the band has publicly claimed to be religious, and they’re kind of potty-mouthed. But band member Jenny Lewis’ solo album, last year’s “Rabbit Fur Coat,” was mostly about the difficulty of being agnostic, the tension between nonbelief and the desire for faith and security. “I didn’t intend to write a bunch of songs about God,” Lewis told NPR. But nevertheless, that’s what she did.
And God has popped up in Rilo Kiley songs with some regularity, although He rarely earns a favorable mention.
In one song from the band’s back catalogue, a character tells her mother that “God never blessed her.” On the staunchly secular “Absence of God” from their last record, “More Adventurous,” Lewis suggests that a life full of love is possible without religion.
All that is what makes the first listen to “Under the Blacklight” so intriguing–will it be at all Holy Ghost-haunted like Lewis’ recent output, or has Rilo Kiley left the Big Guy behind for good? And either way, is it a worthwhile listen for “people of faith” like me?


riloKiley_idol.jpgThey’ve definitely left rocking out behind–this album is much closer to something like funk, or soul, or even 80’s glam-pop–than anything Rilo Kiley has done before. Thematically, things aren’t necessarily darker (Lewis and co-songwriter Blake Sennett have always known how to make depression sound pretty), but they are a whole lot sleazier. On “Close Call,” Lewis sings matter-of-factly: “Funny thing about money for sex/you might get rich/but you die by it.” And “15” is a bouncy country number about a wholly inappropriate romance between an older man and an underage girl. (Guess how old?)
“Under the Blacklight” is decidedly not “a bunch of songs about God.” In the end, after a few mentions of angels and atheists (one each–a tie!), we end up in that same secular-love place from “Absence of God.” The mantra of the album’s final track, “Give a Little Love,” is:
You gotta
give a little love
give a little love
give a little love
to get a little love
give a little love
give a little love
Some people might say this is a milquetoasty approach to love, that it doesn’t approach real spirituality. And some might argue that the squalid nightclub vibe of most of this record means it’s too trashy to be worthwhile. I say, though, that Rilo Kiley writes great pop songs about characters in royally messed up situations trying to find meaning. And I say that love–you know, what God is all about–is maybe the only worthwhile thing to write a pop song about.
So I say, snag this latest Rilo Kiley offering, and burn an extra copy for the car.
Want to learn more about what “Burn or Burn” reviews are all about? Read more here.
– Joel Hartse

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