Juliette Lewis isn’t really a celebrity, you know. She’s more like the lank-haired girl in gray acid-wash and unbloused high tops: cute enough in the rec room light, but she wouldn’t warrant your Iron Maiden bar mirror money if you met her at a carnival. Even bad girls won’t, but she will. And Lewis’ debut with the Licks speaks the same language. If this were purely a vanity record, it would ape shamelessly (see the Killers). But instead it works hard to shake the celebrity rocker tag, from the overemphasized swagger of Lewis’ husky vocal (she sounds like a barroom Johnette Napolitano) to songs that put burnout late ’70s hard rock in the trashy fabrics and sharp hooks of the ’70s and ’80s. “Pray for the Band Latoya” sounds like Sahara Hotnights covering Heart (and check the harmonized guitars in the solo!); “I Never Got to Tell You What I Wanted To” moves toward ’90s modern rock; and “This I know” is a passable-enough “I’m a girl/You’re my man” ballad to share cheap beer and a joint to. You might say Juliette’s a Hollywood neon angel. But on Speaking My Language she’s aching for the road to ruin, and that’s real bravery.
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