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Album review: Jenny & Johnny's 'I'm Having Fun Now' [updated]

August 30, 2010 | 11:12 pm

Johnny The heterosexual working couple may be replacing the band of brothers as the primary unit of the 21st century rock group. In Arcade Fire, Sleigh Bells and the Dirty Projectors, a balanced blend of male and female sensibilities creates the kind of buzz once caused by all the boy energy of classic rock. Relatively balanced, that is: In most groups built around such units, the man remains the primary creative force (at least on the surface). As in most workplaces, in pop music women have made significant but limited gains.

Jenny & Johnny represent a different situation. In this couple, the woman is the powerhouse and the man, though forceful in his own ways, rises to her challenges. Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice have been creatively and romantically involved for half a decade; the lady, one of indie's most successful thinking beauties, is the bigger star. Maybe that's why this project, though lighthearted, has some of the prickliness of a real day-to-day relationship. The title may be "I'm Having Fun Now," but there's room for wisecracks, bitterness and worry amid the lovey-dovey stuff.

"I'm Having Fun Now" distinguishes itself from Lewis and Rice's solo efforts, or hers with band-on-hiatus Rilo Kiley, by going for a very specific tone. The fuzzy but bright production by the duo, with help from old friends Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) and Pierre de Reeder (Rilo Kiley), has been compared to classic AM radio fare but is really closer to the jangle pop of the 1980s -- bands like the Three O'Clock and Opal in L.A., Let's Active out of North Carolina, and the Chills from New Zealand. It's prettier than what today's shoegaze revivalists do, but still a little jarring and tart.

Merging voices and exchanging lines, Lewis and Rice don't duet so much as banter. Some, like "Switchblade," are directed at the kinds of shifty characters a musical couple might encounter in Hollywood. Others tackle the relationship theme in language that's highly literate and never over-sugared.

What other pop couple would dream of being together forever in a New Yorker cartoon? That's just how urbane and aware Lewis and Rice can be, working out their power dynamic with the "record" switch on.

-- Ann Powers

Jenny & Johnny

"I'm Having Fun Now"

(Warner Bros.)

Three and a half stars (Out of four)

Update: The original post of this review mistakenly referred to the album title as "We're Having Fun Now."