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La Liz delivers the follow-up to that album

Redemption Song

Pop Quiz: Liz Phair

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Somebody’s Miracle is mostly generic pap that any number of next-big-has-beens could have cranked out, a useless piece of plastic poking a pointy heel in the eye of the carcass of the artist Liz once was.

By Amy Phillips, Managing Editor
Pitchfork, October 2, 2005

Now this is a terrible Liz Phair record. Somebody’s Miracle is mostly generic pap that any number of next-big-has-beens could have cranked out, a useless piece of plastic poking a pointy heel in the eye of the carcass of the artist Liz once was.

Sound familiar?

I know I may be in the minority ’round these parts, but I actually like Liz’s 2003 self-titled trainwreck. Yes, it’s desperate and confused and comes on to you like the mom in American Pie. For all of those reasons, I find it quite fascinating and entertaining, not to mention provocative. I mean, we’re still talking about it, aren’t we? When was the last time you got into an argument over Stephan Mathieu & Ekkehard Ehlers’ Heroin, which Pitchfork reviewed the same day as Liz Phair, and gave an 8.6? Isn’t that why we fell in love with Liz in the first place, because she made us angry and uncomfortable?

In hindsight, the 0.0 bomb was wasted on that album, because it’s much better than Somebody’s Miracle. The chief complaint about Liz Phair seemed to be that its rockers were sticky-sweet Matrix-pop at its best– cheesy, tacky, glamorous, and yes, radio- and MTV-friendly. People complain that “Extraordinary” and “Why Can’t I” are Avril rip-offs, but now that we all agree “Since U Been Gone” is a masterpiece, maybe a few more people should rip off Avril.

Rather than weather the storm and stick to her guns, Phair eschews her pop fix completely for Somebody’s Miracle, an album that is “adult” in the worst sense of the word– the sense that gets “-alternative” or “-contemporary” tacked onto it by radio programmers. It’s not so much “mature” as is it safe, nice, settled down. These songs are perfectly content to get up every morning, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch the news, have 10-minute missionary-position sex, and then fall asleep.

Opener “Leap of Innocence” swaddles the chorus melody of Liz’s own “Polyester Bride” (from her underrated 1998 album whitechocolatespaceegg) in wide, bright heartland-rock chords, as Liz moons over The One That Got Away. Blah, whatever! And why does it sound so weird? The disconnect between her flat voice (the pitch corrector has clearly been set aside– she’s completely off-key) and the shiny production gives the song the feel of an unfinished overdub, something to be scrapped or cleaned up later. Although, at least it’s not boring, which is more than can be said for most of the 13 songs that follow. The title track, “Count on My Love”, and lead single “Everything to Me” soak up Sheryl Crow’s sun, get lost in John Mayer’s wonderland, and oh, how they remind me of Nickelback. In fact, so do most of the tracks stinking up the back end of this tedious, over-long calamity.

Of course, not everything on Somebody’s Miracle sucks like Maroon 5; a few songs suck in other ways. “Wind and the Mountain” starts out promising, with appealingly vulnerable verses about, appropriately, not living up to expectations, but by the chorus it’s a self-help serenade, all we’re-gonna-get-you-through-this Dr. Phil crap. “Stars and Planets” seems to be making some sort of statement about the Big, Bad Music Industry, but the Teletubbies-happy chorus (“We all shine! Shine! Shine! We all shine! Shine! Shine!”) and overzealous bounciness of the rhythm make it the kind of earworm that sends people screaming to Wolf Eyes. “Table for One” is a trite, oversimplified acoustic lament from the perspective of a doomed alcoholic. Only someone armed with the pipes of Trisha Yearwood and an artillery of Nashville session musicians could save it.

There are two decent songs on Somebody’s Miracle, and that’s why you aren’t staring at double zeros once again. On “Got My Own Thing”, Liz purrs in her best tomboy about how she don’t need no stinking true love, since the guy she’s got is doing just fine for now. “Why I Lie”, meanwhile, reaches back to Phair’s old slippery sense of melody and penchant for self-deprecation. “And if you ask me why I hurt you/ I don’t understand it/ I can’t help myself/ It’s a special combination/ Of predatory instinct/ And simple ill will,” she sings over a clip-clopping beat and Stones riff, sounding not the least bit apologetic but, frankly, kinda bored. Ahh, there’s the Liz we know and love.

Just as naysayers were quick to blame the Matrix for Liz Phair, it would be all too easy to point fingers at Phair’s collaborators on Somebody’s Miracle— namely producers John Alagia and John Shanks. Between them, they’ve twiddled knobs for the Dave Matthews Band, Sheryl Crow, John Mayer, Michelle Branch, and Celine Dion, which explains pretty much everything. On the other hand, Shanks has worked with Hilary Duff, Pink, Ashlee Simpson, and Kelly Clarkson, and co-wrote “Come Clean”, “Pieces of Me”, and “La La”, so Phair could certainly have chosen to continue experimenting with teen-pop. Either way, she took the helm, and as such, the successes and failures of Somebody’s Miracle fall squarely on her shoulders. Would she really want it any other way?

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