The Earliest Bird: Top New Recorded Release 6-4-21 – 6-10-21 Liz Phair’s “Soberish” Reviewed
In 2010 I went to see Liz Phair at Bowery Ballroom (here) as her return to indie labels with Funstyle was ready for consumption (here), a terrific show and retrospective. I wish she was doing the same tour eleven years later but instead she is going on the road with Garbage and Alanis Morissette, the acceptableish face of pro-sex feminism and a gateway drug not to Olivia Rodrigo but to girl in red and Hayley Kiyoko. The difference is that Liz can write better songs than the upcoming generation which seems at its best in the semi-underground lesbian pop scene.
Though Liz isn’t a lesbian, she is a sexual outlier and on an ode to her vagina, “Bad Kitty” she has her 24 year old son performing backup -iffy and the song doesn’t justify it. Her first album since Funstyle be like that, after four nothing special singles lead us here it becomes clear she left some goodies for the album proper and if she still has problems with sex, at least she still enjoys it.
Produced by Brad Wood, the man who made the Girlysound tapes easier for mainstream rock fans in 1993, her latest release Soberish takes from all places south of her herky jerky career, which began with three great albums and never really dipped below the surface. Opening with the Girlysoundish “Spanish Doors” -which wasn’t that great as a single, and here seems to be saying relax, it is the same Liz, it’s clear she isn’t dead in the water and also isn’t at her best moment. The very next song is where Liz meets Carole King, an acoustic it’s too late sound without the soar, “The Game” has her still, after all these fucking years, whining about a one night stand, but it is a better song.
So it goes for the rest of the album, with too much meh like her embarrassing ode to a Velvet Underground, “Hey Lou” redeemed by the ambient ballad “In There,” the best song here, a recherchez “Sheridan Road,” hurt by the real ambient closer “Rain Scene” with a deeply buried vocal set to the sound of rain. The title track is a keeper, “Soul Sucker” misses.
A quick guide to Liz’s albums:
Girly-Sound – A
Exile In Guysville – A+
Whipsmart – A-
Whitechocolatespaceegg – B+
Liz Phair – B
Somebody’s Miracle – B
Funstyle – B+
Yet there is always something worth listening – her first capitol records album got a 0.00 off Pitchfork, as though they forget to hear “H.W.C.” and I just listened to Somebody’s Miracle and it stands up exceedingly well. So Soberish is only a return to form in the sense that she hasn’t released anything in year after year, it remains a weirdly prosaic lyricism of break ups. And still light years ahead of Alanis’s last and Garbage’s next.