Review Summary: Nothin' lasts forever when you travel time.The Voyager
is a gorgeous record. Drawn in lush broadstrokes of ‘70s California cool and the kind of warm, fuzzy production Ryan Adams has been marinating in for years, it’s the kind of album that slides by, smooth and sorrowless. Upon first listen, it’s disappointing, the way Under the Blacklight
felt, a tired retread of plastic feelings and corny sunsets. That misses the point, of course; like the blackened, rotting center of Under the Blacklight’s
tongue-in-cheek representation of Los Angeles decay, The Voyager
is a pretty record that hides a fundamental, slow burning sadness. A song like “Love U Forever” is impossible not to sympathize with, as much as you’d rather not; it’s simple and straightforward. “I could love you until all the Polaroids fade,” Lewis sings, and it’s happy, sure, like you expect a song with that title to be. The guitar hitches and surges, but there’s a hint of nostalgia in that bittersweet chorus, a reminder that everything present fades, after a while.
As easy as it goes down, The Voyager
is a record that rewards repeated listens. The first album since Lewis’s sugary collaboration with longtime partner Johnathan Rice, 2010’s I’m Having Fun Now
, The Voyager
feels like a return to solid ground, a run-through of past Rilo Kiley touchstones. Failed romances, melodies that float, alive in a reverb that’s practically its own instrument; The Voyager
is classic in its forwardness. It sounds like a faded telegraph from Laurel Canyon. As optimistic a feeling as the bright harmonies and backbreaking backbeat bring to mind on “Head Underwater,” Lewis refuses to pigeonhole herself. “Aloha and the Three Johns” describes a relationship or a vacation, twisted and torn up. It’s at once hopelessly empathetic and terribly candid: “You better hide the weed because the maid is at the door / and I can see a John getting a handjob on the balcony below.” “Just One Of the Guys” is vintage Lewis – tackling the subject of a ticking biological clock with self-flagellating verve and a fair dose of acerbic spit. If nothing else, The Voyager
makes the shimmering Sunset Strip production and flawless guitar chime sound like a reckoning. Lewis has always been able to spin a good yarn. On The Voyager
, she achieves a certain distance from it all, allowing the music to breathe as its own cautionary tale, and for Lewis herself to arrive at the end of it, stronger, wiser.
There’s a luxury to this album that’s hard to reconcile with the repeated bruisings that Lewis‘s gorgeous voice relates, but it’s true that the best kinds of beauty hurt. Adams has imported the kind of sparkling Americana atmosphere he’s attached himself to in the past few years, and while it’s not much of a digression from late-era Rilo Kiley, or 2008’s awkward, elegant solo outburst Acid Tongue
, songs like the impossibly sumptuous “Late Bloomer” and the carefully constructed earworm of opener “Head Underwater” make Lewis appear a siren out of another time. There’s something alluring about this kind of hypnotic recall. It’s a celebration of the past, wholesome and strewn with flowers, yet imbued with a heartache that is affecting and emotionally rending. When The Voyager
ends, with a title track as hopelessly positive yet relentlessly self-doubting as the record it concludes, I’m left lost, confused: a record this beautiful shouldn’t be so goddamn sad. But those strings are inarguable, Lewis singing “if you wanna get to heaven, get out of this world” a plain and true statement, if anything at all. The Voyager
is a reminder that this will all pass you by, quickly, too, if you’re not careful. Letting that fleeting pain rest alongside you for a little bit, though; The Voyager
makes that seem like a preferable option, all told. “I could love you until all our hair turns gray,” Lewis sings on “Love U Forever,” and all the allure of that song is in the lie being told. Nothing lasts forever. But it’s fun to try, right?