fri 14/06/2024

Album: Liz Phair - Soberish | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Liz Phair - Soberish

Album: Liz Phair - Soberish

A welcome return from a songwriter with something to say

Liz Phair: still revolutionary after all these years

Pop music, like Hollywood, is a dream factory: a place where you can be anything you like, as long as that’s not a middle-aged woman. I’ll hit the last year of my 30s next week, with the number one spot in the country held by a woman who has her driving licence but isn’t old enough to drink. Cannot relate. In either respect. Thank god, then, for the return of Liz Phair.

Coming more than a decade since her last album, Soberish is a record with plenty to say. The woman who wrote “Divorce Song” when she was 23 has, in her 50s, written what may be the greatest ever song about divorce: “Spanish Doors” is about keeping up appearances while your life and your home crumble around you. There are songs about breaking up gracefully, about hooking up on tour, about letting down your barriers and burying first-date nerves in a shot or two. And Henry, the bartending friend of Phair’s “Polyester Bride” days, is still on the scene, as sage and salesman.

Last seen ruffling the feathers of indie purists with side-swipes into pop (2003’s self-titled album) and hip-hop (2010’s Funstyle), Phair has spent much of the last decade working on film and television soundtracks, a box set 25th anniversary reissue of her groundbreaking debut Exile in Guyville, and the first volume of her memoirs, Horror Stories. Those trips into the past prompted a return to the studio with old friend and collaborator Brad Wood – producer of the California-via-Chicago songwriter’s first two and a half albums – but the results capture a magic far beyond nostalgic trickery.

The album takes a little bit of everything that makes Liz Phair great – the candid lyrics she first became known for, the irresistible pop hooks of her turn-of-the-millennium reinvention, the memoir-meets-short-story of her prose and sonic tricks straight out of the composition handbook – and throws it all in a blender, creating something both unique and uniquely Liz. Songs shift gear halfway through: album opener “Spanish Doors” cycles through grinding guitars on the verse to hit a sweet spot of a chorus, complete with audacious vocoder harmonies; “Hey Lou”, an upbeat rocker which imagines Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed at opposite ends of the dinner table, takes a dreamy detour down 5th Avenue; “Ba Ba Ba” lurches from cello and nursery rhyme lyrical percussion to alt.rock romance. “Sheridan Road” is both a simple acoustic composition and a triumph of sound design, the ambient sounds of Phair’s native Chicago “merging, converging” with a lovers’ trip down memory lane. The whole thing is dizzying first time around, delightful as you burrow your way deeper with repeated listens.

Phair, who’ll be opening for Alanis Morissette on a rescheduled UK tour later this year, said in a recent interview: “If you had told me at 23 that I would still be doing this, that would have been revolutionary to me”. But to those of us who grew up in her shadow, this revolution comes as no surprise.

Below: listen to "Hey Lou" by Liz Phair

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