With all the attention being paid to her in the world of music, you’d think Liz Phair were the anti-Christ this week. She’s shed her alt-rock stylings for something more radio-friendly. In her mid-30s, she’s decided to make an album to reach out to more of the general population. This, she figures, might be her last best chance to pull in a large audience.
For that, of course, she’s branded a sell-out and her music is trashed. One critic in the New York Times even penned an irate editorial against the current record, branding it “career suicice.”
With feelings burning this hot, I had to give the album a chance. I’ve never listened to her earlier albums. I’m coming into this fresh. And what I found with the eponymous album is a fun pop sound that sticks in your head and is fairly radio-friendly. Some of the lyrics sound like they’re written by a whiney teenager at times, but the music carries you through it with a strong hook. (“Why can’t I breathe whenever I think about you? Why can’t I speak whenever I talk about you?” Why does every singer/songwriter have to have a song about breathing these days? Damn you, Faith Hill!)
The problem comes when Phair throws a bone to her indie rock fans and gets the CD brandished with a “Mature Lyrics” label, thus killing its potential sales to much of the very audience she says she’s going after. The album whisks by until the final third, which includes a song titled “H.W.C.” I try to maintain some level of family-friendliness on this page, so I won’t tell you what it stands for, but suffice it to say it’s fairly crude and, in some minds, vulgar. This isn’t an album I’d give a tweener, based solely on that song. Phair sings it with a nod to her base, pounding home the offensive lyric with great repetition.
If you’re trying to aim for the bubble gum pop sound, why do you also work against it so strongly on the same album? If you’re going to change your sound, go all the way.
The crew at The Matrix produced a small number of songs on this album. They were responsible for Avril Lavigne’s album, and their sound comes through. I picked out three of their four contributions to the album without reading the liner notes. The techno-echo sound was obvious.
“Liz Phair” is a fun album that earns its “Explicit Content” notice, sadly. “Rock Me” is destined to be a single, and could very well be Demi Moore’s anthem. (“Oh baby, you’re young, but that’s OK, what’s give or take nine years, anyway? … want you to rock me all night, baby.”) The CD is stuck in my car stereo, because I don’t want to listen to anything else right now. I’m in a groove with this one. Makes me want to check out what the previous efforts sound like. In that, I supposed this album is successful. It’s reached me.
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