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Folks who lamented the death of Rilo Kiley in 2004, when the Saddle Creekers jumped to Warner Bros. and brushed against the pop they’d always coveted, will find little comfort in the band’s new album, but never mind them. Under the Blacklight is a brief and often bizarre record, jiggling with artificial rhythm and awash in backup singers imported from 1981. The breezy half-disco, barely avoiding chintz, affords Jenny Lewis’s warm, knowing voice more comfort than ever; lyrically, Lewis and bandmate Blake Sennett bathe in sunny sordidness, as cheerful about pornography and ephebophilia as about hookups and breakups. Even the old subjects are dirtied—as a sober surveyor of mating games, Lewis never wrote a better invitation than “My mama is an atheist/If I stay out late she don’t get pissed.”
The band’s pop judgment occasionally fails it. Opening the record by pilfering the famously dubious riff from “My Sweet Lord” is gutsy certainly and clever maybe, but it’s still a mistake: The arcane double entendres of “Smoke Detector” are like the language in those papers that pranksters pass off as postmodern manifestos. But Blacklight is never boring, which is what those of us who liked two-thirds of 2002’s The Execution of All Things expected this band to be by now, and its weakness isn’t the lyrics, the melodies, or Lewis’s newly liberated voice, but the production. There’s no nuance to the sound—it’s all surface, as flat and bright as Rilo Kiley think pop music is. Another album may find them excavating their new territory, but until then they’re lovely surveyors.