Even before opening up the CD case for I’m Having Fun Now, I had strong reservations about playing over half an hour of potentially PDA-saturated tunes. It doesn’t help that the promotional photos leading up to the album release present lovebirds turned band mates Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice betwixt the sheets, or that the backside of the CD cover features J&J in a candid moment of parking lot intimacy. Mercifully, Jenny and Johnny avoid back-and-forth, Sonny and Cher proclamations of starry-eyed love on their debut album, and instead offer a straightforward and pleasant record indicative of two people perfectly happy to be sharing their music.
Considering that Lewis and Rice are both bona fide musicians in their own right, it shouldn’t be surprising that the two could produce an LP together that is more than just an indulgence. Their individual styles actually complement one another quite well, so much so that the interplay between Lewis’ floating vocals and Rice’s sturdy delivery creates a natural balance throughout the album. Jenny and Johnny share equally in singing duty, with Rice’ voice often resembling that of David Bazan (Pedro the Lion), minus Bazan’s characteristic brooding. “Animal” in particular highlights Rice’s stylistic strength as a confident lyrical messenger, encouraging the listener, “Show your teeth to everyone/Don’t let no one prove you wrong.” The real sense of mutual support between Lewis and Rice remains constant from start to finish, making this girlfriend-boyfriend collaboration appreciable rather than nauseating.
It’s the even keel quality of Jenny and Johnny, though, that really makes the whole album come together into a single benign effort. If anything, the entire record feels too comfortable, failing to really draw much attention to itself, save a few moments. After hearing Jenny Lewis belt it out to jangling guitars on the second track, “My Pet Snakes,” I couldn’t help but fancy to do the proverbial “mashed potato,” a dance move that I can only imagine involves plenty of wholesome hip-twisting and elbow-swinging. I wanted more of that, something akin to the recent work of youthful rocker Ben Kweller, but I never found that distinctive groove a second time for the duration of the album. It came and went, leaving me to absently smile for the next thirty minutes until the music faded to a close. Should Jenny and Johnny stick together and team up for a second offering down the road, I really hope they can regain more of the fleeting excitement that fuels the honeymoon period of every budding relationship.
-Scott Lensing, host of “The Six Degrees of Jeff Mangum,” Sundays 4PM-6PM