Back in 1998, Liz Phair attempted a subtle compromise between indie rock and adult rock, Whitechocolatespaceegg, with dullish results and disappointing sales. On the new Liz Phair, she teams with Avril Lavigne hitmakers the Matrix as well as Michael Penn, Pete Yorn and Yorn’s producer R. Walt Vincent. Downplaying her melodic quirks to blend in and chase hits, Phair doesn’t even play much guitar on her own album.
And yet beyond the nearly anonymous single “Why Can’t I?” there’s no denying her lusty, whimsical and disarmingly direct lyrical presence. No other Lilith Fair vet would try to get her record in America’s malls while extolling the beauty-enhancing properties of “hot white cum,” driving home the phrase seventeen times.
Newly divorced and with a kindergartner in tow, Phair is once again ready for randy singles action, yet she’s still a responsible mom. On “Rock Me,” the punchiest of four Matrix collaborations, she aims to seduce an Xbox-playing stud who doesn’t “even know who Liz Phair is.” On “Little Digger,” the most contemplative of the five Penn productions, she watches her son struggle to comprehend the implications of Mommy’s new male friend. Both match the lofty songwriting standard of her 1993 debut, Exile in Guyville, and there’s plenty more hook-y vitality. Phair is a fine lyricist, and although she’s lost some musical identity, she’s gained potential Top Forty access. The rest is up to radio, and you.