It's a challenge calling Jenny Lewis a true solo artist. Her first outing without Rilo Kiley featured accompaniment by the Watson Twins. Her second foray, Acid Tongue, has so many collaborators it almost doesn't qualify as a Jenny Lewis disc either. But the bigger issue with the record — which has cameos from M. Ward, Zooey Deschanel, Elvis Costello, and Lewis' sister and dad (no, really) — is that these guests are the cake when they should be the icing. Besides, the embellishment they provide is uneven: While Ana Lenchantin's strings give an elegant lift to "Bad Man's World," Costello sounds like a parody of himself on the otherwise decent "Carpetbaggers."
Lyrically, Lewis is also all over the map. She's cryptic in places ("Black Sand"), and an engaging storyteller in others ("Jack Killed Mom"). She shows her way with adjectives when describing a litany of sad-sack clichés on "A Song for Them," but clever modifiers can't save this anthem for methadone addicts and desperate housewives from sounding patronizing. Acid Tongue's bright spots include the torchy "Bad Man's World," where warm, vintage-soul backing vocals and woozy strings make for awesome makeout music. "The Next Messiah," a nine-minute epic in three acts, moves from playful country lament to shit-kicking barroom jam, with a chorus that could've been lifted from Jesus Christ Superstar. Overall, though, Acid Tongue gets higher marks for music than vocals, suggesting this soloist might be better suited to band life after all.