Liz Phair
Soberish


3.0
good

Review

by Brendan Schroer CONTRIBUTOR (178 Reviews)
June 9th, 2021 | 27 replies


Release Date: 06/04/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: There's no escaping the past, but maybe there's a new beginning.

It’s nearly impossible to discuss Liz Phair’s comeback without opening the can of worms that is her entire career. Few artists have received such acclaim and disdain in equal measure, both extremes shaped and radically reshaped by history. And it all comes down to one simple fact: Phair is never going to escape the shadow of Exile in Guyville. Every subsequent album she’d release would be examined within the context and parameters of her first record because, simply put, no one could have predicted how celebrated and influential the album would be. Even Phair herself was shocked, as she revealed in Wild and Unwise - The Liz Phair Story:

"I don't really get what happened with Guyville. It was so normal, from my side of things. It was nothing remarkable, other than the fact that I'd completed a big project, but I'd done that before”.

Unfortunately, the shadow cast by Exile in Guyville led to her constantly being criticized throughout her career for “never living up” to the record. It didn’t seem readily apparent at first - Whip-Smart and Whitechocolatespaceegg were just seen as lesser versions of the debut - but as many of us know, the self-titled album was the one to burst open the floodgates of scorn from critics and hardcore fans alike. And while I think that record is fine, Phair never quite seemed to regain her footing after it was released. Somebody’s Miracle was an incredibly boring and overly safe MOR affair, and Funstyle was horrendously misguided in its cringey comedy bits and tired commentary about music industry crap. And sadly, that’s where she stopped. She fell out with her record label and sat out the rest of the decade; however, while she was focusing on other ventures, one little album was gaining more acclaim than ever. Which one was that? Well… what else could it be but Exile in Guyville, of course? It reached #56 on Rolling Stone’s newest 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, and while I don’t consider Rolling Stone the be-all-end-all of music journalism, holding the album in such high regard just goes to show that its legacy hasn’t diminished over time.

So it really doesn’t surprise me that, in 2021, Liz Phair would finally want to release something new to keep this newfound momentum going. Soberish is Phair’s first album in 11 years, and it mostly returns to the brand of indie-oriented alternative rock she began her career with. Of course there’s still more polish and gloss than her earliest records, but that’s completely forgivable when she’s taken so many stylistic twists and turns as it is. “Spanish Doors” begins the experience, and it offers a nice glimpse into what you’ll hear on Soberish as a whole: clean guitars, stripped-down production values, and a few oddball tonal shifts to keep things interesting. I get the sense that Phair is peddling this record as a clean slate; it’s not that she’s forgetting the crazy ride her career has been, but rather she’s using the album as her moment of clarity in music form. It’s in the title: Soberish. And true to this idea, some songs reconcile the grounded music of her early years with the experimentation of her later work. The juxtaposition works much more than you might think; the humble and spare nature of Exile in Guyville benefits from some eccentricities, and the utterly bizarre songwriting choices found in Funstyle are tempered and brought back down to earth.

As for the other songs, you’ll find a nice mix of electric and acoustic guitars in a typical alternative rock setting. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but the back-to-basics nature of many of these tunes proves quite satisfying. “Sheridan Road” is a wonderful stripped-down ballad of reminiscence with a breezy atmosphere, while “Soul Sucker” adds a piano into the mix to bring out some vaguely bluesy vibes. Perhaps the most striking thing about the tracklist as a whole is how acoustic it is; even more energetic and fast-paced tunes like “Bad Kitty” (yeah, that’s a title alright) and the title track don’t really crank up the volume much. But as I said, there are some of those eccentric moments leftover from albums like Funstyle. One of the most intriguing ones comes from the falsetto “woo-hoo!” vocals in the mid-tempo ballad “Dosage”, which don’t seem like they should work with the song’s atmosphere, but they strangely do. Another example comes in the form of the punchy drums in “Ba Ba Ba”, which contrast with the airy and lighthearted feel of the song itself. Still, I wish there were more such moments. The biggest issue with Soberish is that a lot of the middle-of-the-road elements of Somebody’s Miracle are kept in as well, and while the laid-back nature of the album is pleasant enough, I wish there were a few more punchy and energetic tracks to balance them out and provide a little more variety.

However, did any of us really know what to expect after 11 years? Soberish is an enjoyable, agreeable record. That might not be what some people wanted - it might not even be what I wanted after that long - but if this ends up being her last record, then it’s a much better conclusion than Funstyle at the very least. Liz Phair’s had such a turbulent and strange career at this point that I’d be completely satisfied with this being her final album; and if she keeps recording, then it’s at least a solid launching pad to build a new phase of her career upon. Soberish may be in the shadow of Exile in Guyville like Phair’s other records, but it also benefits from something those albums don’t - the lens of hindsight.



Recent reviews by this author
Steely Dan GauchoCarnifex Graveside Confessions
Between the Buried and Me Colors IIOrla Gartland Woman on the Internet
Steely Dan AjaSteely Dan The Royal Scam
user ratings (10)
2.8
good


Comments:Add a Comment 
DivergentThinking
Contributing Reviewer
June 9th 2021


11103 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Yeah, I guess this is half-review, half-retrospective essay. But Liz Phair's career had taken so many twists and turns over the years that I couldn't help it

fogza
June 9th 2021


2742 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Damn divergent, I really hoped you'd review the self-titled so we could argue more about the merits of that one lol

Digging: Salif Keita - La Diffrence

DivergentThinking
Contributing Reviewer
June 9th 2021


11103 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Maybe I'll do it eventually ;]

SitarHero
June 9th 2021


13549 Comments


Gimme your hot white review! This seems phairly decent.

fogza
June 9th 2021


2742 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Nice sitar, a reference and a witty pun all in one!

Mort.
June 9th 2021


16546 Comments


i only know of liz phair due to this retrospective on funstyle

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5WM8O3Usxw

Digging: Unbroken - Life. Love. Regret.

DivergentThinking
Contributing Reviewer
June 9th 2021


11103 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

lol, I knew that was gonna be Todd video before I even clicked it

Get Low
June 9th 2021


10910 Comments


Great review. Liz Phair is coo but I'm probably not gonna check this.

Sowing
Moderator
June 9th 2021


39057 Comments


Never heard her stuff. Who would you compare her to?

Digging: The Felice Brothers - From Dreams to Dust

wildinferno2010
June 9th 2021


1583 Comments


>i only know of liz phair due to this retrospective on funstyle

lol same. I'd never heard of Liz Phaur before that review and I think "penis colada" every time I hear her name now. A shame, maybe

Digging: John Mayer - Heavier Things

mvdu
June 9th 2021


967 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I like Somebody’s Miracle, so I don’t find the parts of that in the record a negative. The best thing about Soberish is that it reminds me of all of her eras yet feels unique and fresh. I personally love the album.

DivergentThinking
Contributing Reviewer
June 10th 2021


11103 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

@Get Low: Thanks!



@Sowing: It really depends on the era. Her first few albums are like a more lo-fi version of the confessional singer-songwriter alt rock stuff Alanis Morissette was so good at (although Liz Phair started before Alanis). Her self-titled album is more like Let Go-era Avril Lavigne, and that record was even co-written by the same songwriting team The Matrix. And Funstyle is just all over the fucking place with its comedy bits and quirks. So yeah, it's hard to pin down her exact style when she's changed her sound so much. In any case, I recommend her first few albums over the others

mvdu
June 10th 2021


967 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

It’s a good review - I just enjoyed the album much more. As good as Exile In Guyville is, my personal favorite is whitechocolatespaceegg. I also agree that the self-titled album is underrated by many. It’s certainly catchy if a bit derivative.

DivergentThinking
Contributing Reviewer
June 10th 2021


11103 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Thanks, and I do appreciate seeing a contrasting opinion. Whitechocolatespacegg is definitely my second favorite after Exile, and I'm just happy that Liz finally came around to putting out another album again. I was starting to think it would never happen

fogza
June 10th 2021


2742 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Exile in Guyville (and the next two to some degree) have a bare bones rock and roll sound, there's a song on here that references Lou Reed, and I think you could see the Stones and the Velvets as influences on the first part of her career. Her delivery has that slacker 90's indie vibe (and more 90's relevant lyrical themes) fused with an older rock and roll sensibility. Maybe Courtney Barnett would be a good modern comparison?



Then she made a grab for the brass ring of power pop, and the wheels sort of fell off.

SitarHero
June 10th 2021


13549 Comments


I had no attachment to Exile in Guyville so I didn't hate Phair's s/t when it was released. I even thought "Why Can't I" was pretty good single and didn't understand any of the angst it caused the music press.

fogza
June 10th 2021


2742 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

If you don't like Avril Lavigne then it's a bit of a shock to the system

DivergentThinking
Contributing Reviewer
June 10th 2021


11103 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Luckily Let Go was one of the first albums I ever listened to and I have eternal nostalgic love for it, so Liz's self-titled was just fine for me

SitarHero
June 11th 2021


13549 Comments


NGL I crushed on Avril big time when she was the reigning pop punk princess. Then Liz Phair comes along like a milfy pop punk Kylie Minogue and teenage me was definitely interested xD.

DivergentThinking
Contributing Reviewer
June 11th 2021


11103 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I distinctly remember the first two studio albums I ever had as a kid: Let Go, and Infinity by Journey. And I credit those for being where all my other musical tastes branched out from. Let Go was what got me into pop, which eventually got me into alterative rock, which led me to a slew of other genres and bands. Meanwhile, Infinity is what got me into hard rock, then eventually progressive rock (via Journey's first few albums), then progressive metal, then extreme metal genres, etc. etc.



So both records are basically ground zero for what I would eventually listen to down the road. It's kinda like my equivalent for all the metalheads who started with bands like Linkin Park and Korn



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2019 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy