Juliette Lewis deserves better than to be filed away alongside other Hollywood luminaries who’ve tried their hand at this rock star lark, oft looking as foolish as Sting in The Bride in the process.
Many of those who saw Katherine Bigelow’s 1995 flick Strange Days, in which Lewis makes a remarkably decent fist of two PJ Harvey songs, were curious as to how her ventures into this notoriously tricky habitat would fare. Alas, disappointment came when she roped in a bunch of weather-beaten session hacks and formed Juliette & The Licks, whose devotion to clichéd notions of rock showmanship, largely half-inched from Patti Smith, left them looking, ironically, much like a band in a movie scene.
However, Terra Incognita – which finds The Licks cast aside for the formidable talents of a new collaborator, Mars Volta shaman Omar Rodriguez-Lopez – sees her slightly gauche antics thrown into a far more favourable realm. Indeed, it’s out with CBGB posturing and in with an obliquely psychedelic kind of heat-haze that occasionally recalls the peyote swagger of Jane’s Addiction.
All cynicism aside, Lewis never seemed lacking in sincerity or passion for the rock arena, but her hell-for-leather devotion to her metier is both a blessing and a curse. Her Janis-and-Patti-damaged hollerin’ elevates what can often be rather prosaic material to greater heights of intensity, yet at the same time lends many of these ditties a melodramatic and overwrought aura that can’t help but remind of the profession where she found her fame.
On the more straightforward rockers, such as the title-track and the beguilingly PJ-ed out Junkyard Heart, Lopez, taking time out from the 36 solo albums he seems to manage on an annual basis, brings a spare economy and a spicy deftness of touch to proceedings, whilst on Female Persecution his shimmering guitar-work and dubbed-out details provide a disorientating, ketamine-vortexed psych-odyssey that’s the album’s clear highlight.
Yet it all comes unstuck on Hard Lovin’ Woman, a bawdy, ballsy and thoroughly interminable blues jam that haunts with the nightmare vision of Robert Plant at his most engorged and objectionable. For all Terra Incognita’s moments, it’s unfortunate that Lewis’s Achilles heel is less that she sounds like she’s playing a part, and more that she sounds like she loves rock‘n’roll’s more tiresome baggage just that bit too much. --Jimmy Martin
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