Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Disparity Of An Adult Singing Like A Teenager: Liz Phair!

The Good: Some wonderful pop-rock tracks with decent lyrics, Occasional vocals
The Bad: Some deathly repetitive tracks, Some real lame lines and rhymes
The Basics: A decent, but not extraordinary, album, Liz Phair satisfies more than it disappoints.

My experiences with Liz Phair's music culminates now with the album that first attracted me to her music. I know, it's pretty sad whenever anyone is drawn to an artist by their most commercially successful single, but when I heard Liz Phair's upbeat-sounding pop-rock tune "Why Can't I?" on the radio back in 2003, I was impressed. It took me a couple of years to getting around to her eponymous album, but now I have. No longer mumbling (my main complaint with Liz Phair's debut Exile In Guyville, reviewed here!), Phair continues in the style I observed she had with Whip-Smart (reviewed here!). In those earlier reviews, I noted that her loyal fans seemed to object to Liz Phair because it had gone too "pop," though I thought she was already there from the beginning.

With fourteen tracks, clocking in at 50 minutes, Liz Phair is a pop-rock album that continued Phair's obsession with presenting herself as a far younger artist. I say this not because she sings a comparison between a lover and her underwear, but because her lyrics - and some of her especially bubblegum vocals - present a rather juvenile persona. Phair does not write and sing about love, but she does present songs that openly reference sex. The juvenile aspect comes in the views on sex and sexuality; it's all "fucking," which is also why the album has the stupid Parental Advisory sticker.

Phair, in her mid-30s is trying to pass herself off as someone much younger and that aspect of the album feels cheap. Instead of having themes that celebrate her adult sexuality, her songs wander from meaningless sexual experience to another. This album features songs that deal with infidelity ("Why Can't I?"), enticement ("Take A Look"), the joys of enthusiastic sex with a younger lover ("Rock Me") and the comfort of an actual relationship ("Favorite").

Conversely, anyone who can make an upbeat anthem celebrating hot, white cum ("H.W.C.") as a beauty regimen, can't be too bad.

And Liz Phair is not bad, she's just not the extraordinary artist I had eagerly anticipated three albums ago. Songs on Liz Phair vary in quality from the distinctly original - "H.W.C." definitely applies, as does "My Bionic Eyes" - to the terribly repetitive, which "Take A Look" takes the cake for.

This album, while it is pop-rock has a number of tracks that are definitely more in the rock and roll range of that spectrum. The electric guitars on "My Bionic Eyes" are classic in their sound and intensity. Similarly, the guitars that open "Extraordinary" (and the album) are very much rock and roll, especially the way Liz Phair accompanies them with her wailing wall of sound voice for the track. Phair uses a decent mix of rock and roll guitars and the more pop-oriented keyboards, but the overall listening experience of this album is both diverse (track to track) and cohesive (it all sounds like it belongs together).

Some of the music is somewhat derivative. For example, "Good Love Never Dies" opens sounding like the classic rock song "Everything I Own" by Bread. Some of the others have instrumentals that have a nagging familiar quality to them, including "H.W.C." For the most part, though, this album succeeds in sounding unlike anything else currently on the market.

For those unfamiliar with Liz Phair, this is a very accessible album to get into her sound. Phair is a pop-rock artist who writes her own songs (all fourteen tracks are written or co-written by Phair) and she plays guitar on "It's Sweet." She had the most commercial success of her career thus far with her mainstream-friendly single "Why Can't I?" As well, she provided backing vocals on Sheryl Crow's hit "Soak Up The Sun." Phair is like Sheryl Crow both vocally and musically, though her lyrics tend to be less mature and more explicit.

The thing is, listening to this album years after it was made, the singles are pretty obvious. "Why Can't I?" and "Extraordinary" stand out as the best, generally safest tracks that showcase Phair's talents and style. So, while "Little Digger" presents actual growth for Phair, it doesn't sound like a song that could chart or represent her. And it's not that the two songs that charted are bad songs. Indeed, I like "Extraordinary" and I think there are too few songs that honestly express their singer as "I am just your ordinary, average, everyday, sane/psycho super-goddess."

While her lyrics might have moments when she sounds like a less mature talent (the rhymes on "Red Light Fever" - nowhere/somewhere, car/are, red/head, etc. - sound like they could have been written by Avril Lavigne), they are generally better than the garbage that populates the Top 40 charts. After the years of waiting, at the very least this was a fun album to listen to. Perhaps that's enough.

The best track is "My Bionic Eyes," the weak link is the highly repetitive "Take A Look."

For other works by former Artist Of The Month artists, please check out my reviews of:
Break Every Rule - Tina Turner
Femme Fatale - Britney Spears
The Collection - Alanis Morissette


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page where my reviews are organized from best to worst!

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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