BY MARIANA GARRICK
After 11 years, Liz Phair has finally returned to release her seventh studio album, Soberish. Phair’s newest album is full of growth and it’s clear she took into account the harsh criticism she faced from her previous album Funstyle. Though Soberish is completely different from Funstyle as it contains no hip-hop or Bollywood transitions, Phair shares with listeners her real, raw and sober view on romance, intimacy and how the small moments in between influence her perception of life.
The indie-pop/rock singer released the 13-track album with co-producer and drummer Brad Wood who worked with her on her albums Whip-Smart, Whitechocolatespaceegg and her 1993 debut, Exile in Guyville, which was a track-by-track feminist response to the Rolling Stones classic, Exile on Main St. At the time, 25-year-old Phair posed topless in a photobooth for the album’s cover to take a jab at societal expectations. Phair’s confident and critical perspective on Guyville created significant attention and took the indie-rock genre by storm due to her attitude toward sex and feminism. The icon’s nudity and criticism in Guyville made it clear that women can be both sexual and vulnerable at the same time.
Throughout her rise to stardom, Phair made a name for herself and performed at Lilith Fair, the traveling music festival organized by Canadian musician Sarah McLachlan and others consisting solely of female solo artists. The festival took place between the summers of 1997 to 1999, before a failed 2010 revival. The indie goddess was never one to shy away from standing her ground and voicing her opinion regarding her experiences as a woman. In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, she made a comment that the concerts allegedly pinned women against each other. The Lilith Fair alumni moved on and was popularized by mainstream media after her 2003 hit song, “Why Can’t I?” was featured in popular 2000’s romantic comedy movies and shows such as “13 Going on 30” and “The OC”.
Soberish opens up with “Spanish Doors,” a funky song filled with an upbeat melody. The repetitive, but catchy, “Don’t want to think about it, don’t want to know” background vocals can easily get stuck in anyone’s head. Despite the song’s cheery melody, the lyrics address a deteriorating relationship that Phair does everything she can to avoid talking about. In a press release she explained, “(Spanish Doors) is about the fracturing of a beautiful life, when everything you counted on is suddenly thrown up for grabs.”
“I drew inspiration from a friend who was going through a divorce, but the actions in the lyrics are my own. I relate to hiding out in the bathroom when everyone around you is having a good time but your life just fell apart. You look at yourself in the mirror and wonder who you are now, shadows of doubt creeping into your eyes. Just a few moments ago you were a whole, confident person and now you wonder how you’ll ever get the magic back,” Phair said.
The next track is more laid back than the opener. “The Game” is a type of song that would be played in the background of a 90’s rom-com during the heartbreaking moment when a relationship has to end. Phair’s vocals in this song have the ability to bring you back to her 2003 self-titled album when it seemed like she was just getting comfortable in her music career.
Moving onto “Hey Lou,” it’s much more of a folk-pop song. Her voice is amazingly smooth while she pays homage to the romance between Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson. On the other hand, the lullaby-ish tune of “Sheridan Road” pulls you into a storyline that pays tribute to the Windy City. The Chicago native’s acoustic poem, “You show me your places, I’ll show you mine // The thrones of our youth and where life was unkind” shows her vulnerability and charm. Not to mention, Phair also takes a trip down memory lane as she lists places in Chicago. “Merging, converging once we hit Lake Shore Drive // Straight past Playboy and down to the Loop.”
The title-track is one of the more memorable songs on the album that opens the door as to why she named the album Soberish. The story begins with Phair waiting for her date at the St. Regis hotel. As time goes on, her nervousness takes over and she finds herself at the bar in an attempt to settle her nerves. “I’ve got so much to say, somehow it’s never the right thing // I meant to be sober, but the bar’s so inviting.”
Along with the song “Dosage” Phair tells listeners to take a page from her book. “A fun night can lead to sex and scandal // Dosage is everything, it hurts you or it helps // Go take your medicine and call me when you’re well.” It seems as if Phair’s album is full of unsaid thoughts and reflections. In the song “Soberish,” she eases her anxiety by taking a drink, and the liquid courage finally allows her to say everything she’s wanted to say.
Soberish proves itself to be calmer than Guyville and less experimental when compared to Funstyle. It is evident that the Grammy nominated artist chose to play it safe on this album after her 11-year hiatus. Through Phair’s stories on heartbreak, reflections and life, this seemingly simple album is actually a complex tale of realization about navigating life’s crossroads, much like the portrayal on the album’s cover.
Phair is scheduled to visit the Bay Area on September 29th at the Concord Pavilion as part of a tour that also includes Alanis Morissette and Garbage. Tickets are available thru Live Nation.