10th Anniversary Remastered: Rabbit Fur Coat – Jenny Lewis With The Watson Twins
If “you are what you love,” then I guess I’m beer, salsa con queso, and Rabbit Fur Coat. The record, which just turned 10 years old, was released in January 2006 and features some of my favorite musicians. In addition to the wonderful Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley and the indie-country duo The Watson Twins, Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes), Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab for Cutie), and M. Ward all appear on the remastered album. And on a cover of the Traveling Wilburys “Handle With Care” no less.
This rerelease comes on red vinyl (the same hue as the dress Jenny Lewis is wearing on the cover) and has been remastered for its anniversary. So, after eating some chips and queso, drinking a beer, I’m going to go through each song, one by one. I suggest you listen along while reading this. Enjoy.
- “Run Devil Run” – The three-part harmony of this song, repeating the title over and over, gives a preview to the minimalistic approach to the album. Less is more. The song is mostly acapella, with a little acoustic guitar being strummed very softly in the background if you listen carefully. It’s a somber, slow intro to Rabbit Fur Coat, but “Run Devil Run” serves to exorcise the demons, and clear the path for the rest of the album.
- “The Big Guns” – “I’ve won hundreds at the track, but I’m not betting on the afterlife.” This questioning of religion is something Lewis really explores a fair amount, especially later throughout the album. This upbeat instrumental, with its driving acoustic guitar and pounding drums, fits nicely with Lewis’ and the Watsons’ harmony in the chorus. “Why am I always messing with the big guns?” is a blanket statement we can all relate to. Why am I doing this? Why am I trying to do something I can’t? It’s a short, but powerful song about being powerless.
- “Rise Up With Fists” – In a recent article with Rolling Stone, Lewis said this was her favorite song on the album. It’s a catchy, soulful, classic-sounding rock tune, with beautiful harmonies by the Watsons. When Lewis sings “Thought I saw you in Vegas, it was not pretty, but she was,” the Watsons sing “Not your wife” overlapping the end of the phrase. It’s simple little things that set the record apart. It’s a great tune about overcoming obstacles, especially yourself. “I will rise up with fists, and take what is mine.”
- “Happy” – “I’d rather be lonely, I’d rather be free.” “Happy” is a country/folk-inspired song. It encompasses the idea of wanting solitude, and the freedoms that presents, but still being drawn to someone who could make you happy. Just a simple acoustic guitar accompanying the first verse and chorus, with a subtle electric guitar coming in during the second (and my favorite) verse until distorting and feeding back until the end. Like Lewis says, we all “worry about cancer and living right,” these days.
- “The Charging Sky” – This brings us back not only to the questioning of a higher power from “The Big Guns,” but the questioning of lots of things like government, and other groups. “It’s a surefire bet I’m gonna die, so I’m taking up praying on Sunday nights,” is a great way to address the existential fears we all feel. It’s a rather serious topic for a swinging country-folk song. However, sometimes all we can do is “share with our friends a couple of beers, in the belly of the beast.” We’re only human.
- “Melt Your Heart” – A whispered vocal, acoustic guitar, a little piano, and haunting harmonies. This is a powerful ballad about never living up to your own expectations and losing the person you once were. The last verse is about sleeping with someone you don’t really care about and how it can make you “hate yourself in the morning.” It’s a sad song, but “like a Valentine from your mother, it’s bound to melt your heart.”
- “You Are What You Love” – With the drums like a march, this song is a declaration of an ideology. “You are what you love, and not what loves you back” are words to live by. Lewis sings about insecurities in a relationship, and not wanting to be “yours for the taking.” She calls herself a “coward” and “fraudulent,” trying to persuade the person who loves her not to. It’s an illusion, a front, not to allow oneself to be potentially hurt by someone. But, at the end of the day, you’re on that person’s “doorstep, pleading for you to take me back.” This vulnerable track exposes Lewis’ self-doubt and somewhat destructive nature on the pursuit of happiness.
- “Rabbit Fur Coat” – Reminiscent of old folk songs that tell a story, Lewis sings about her mother and her “rabbit fur coat.” Her mother is poor, but has this rabbit fur coat, and a rich lady throws her into a river. The mother goes to the lady’s mansion and seduces her husband out of revenge. The story then jumps 20 years in the future and the mother is waitressing in a diner, then they move into a mansion. It’s a confusing plot, really. By the end, Lewis doesn’t know where the mom is, but last she heard she was “putting that stuff up her nose, and still wearing that rabbit fur coat.”
- “Handle With Care” – A cover of the Traveling Wilburys, the classic rock supergroup with Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, etc., with a whole new super group. The song, in addition to Lewis with the Watson Twins, features Ben Gibbard, Conor Oberst, and M. Ward. It’s a pretty awesome cover, and fits well with Lewis’ originals. Plus, Conor Oberst sings my favorite line in the song, “I’ve been uptight and I’ve made a mess, I’ll clean it up myself I guess.”
- “Born Secular” – Back to the religious themes for this deep cut on the album. With the Watsons as their own little choir, Lewis looks for god. “God goes where we wants, and who knows where he is now, not in me.” Set over an almost waltz drum beat, with a piano reverberating like in a mighty cathedral, “Born Secular” feels like an old hymn Lewis updated to fit her feelings of being lost and alone. “God gives, and he takes, from me,” serves as the outro line, repeated over and over while fading to the background as the drums kick it up a notch and the Watsons bring us out with an array of “ahhhs.”
- “It Wasn’t Me” – Another slow, ballad-esque song, but this time set over a solo electric guitar. “It Wasn’t Me” is Lewis’ phrase to avoid responsibility for her actions and their repercussions, and the “humiliation, that’s free,” that follows. She alludes to sleeping with someone she shouldn’t have with “it wasn’t me, I wasn’t there, that’s not my lover, that is not even my friend.” Alcohol probably paid a part, “it wasn’t me, I wasn’t there, I was stone drunk it isn’t clear. And it doesn’t count, because I don’t care.” “It Wasn’t Me” is the last stand-alone song on the album, and Lewis “ends with a closer” and says “goodnight.”
- “Happy (Reprise)” – The “Happy (Reprise)” is just the chorus from “Happy” over and over, but sounding very far away. There is also a prominent woodblock percussive sound keeping time at the forefront of the song. It’s a fitting end, because Rabbit Fur Coat leaves us feeling “happy, so happy.”
So, there you go, all twelve songs of Rabbit Fur Coat. It’s been ten years since its release and it still holds up today. Love, loss, existential/religious crisis, and our search for happiness despite ourselves getting in the way all addressed and wrapped up in a beautiful red vinyl record for us to enjoy again and again. Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins are doing a couple shows to celebrate the anniversary of Rabbit Fur Coat, so let’s hope that their playing together again will inspire another record. If not, we’ll always have our Rabbit Fur Coat to keep us warm.
By Evan Frye