Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Liz Phair boasts the unusual distinction of having released one of the most universally acclaimed albums of the previous decade—her 1993 debut Exile In Guyville—and one of the most lambasted albums of this one, 2003's Liz Phair. That second accomplishment wouldn't have been possible without the first. Exile established her as a fearless songwriter able to craft incisive pop character studies using lo-fi tools. Liz Phair found Phair recruiting a then-hot production team to make a would-be world-crushing album of radio-friendly tracks. Coming from anyone else, it would have been an indistinguishable slab of blandness. Coming from Phair, it felt like the too-cool-for-school hipster's belated attempt at being the homecoming queen.

Whether Phair lost a little bit of her soul in the pursuit of pop stardom is a question she'll have to answer for herself, but the new Somebody's Miracle at least makes a better case for the decision musically. Sounding more confident and relaxed than before against the sympathetic production work of John Alagia and John Shanks (who, between them, have worked with John Mayer, Sheryl Crow, and the Dave Matthews Band), Phair has grown into the role of an MOR songstress. "Got My Own Thing" lays a swelling chorus on top of an amiable groove, the leadoff single "Everything To Me" is pleasant enough, and with its telling details and emotional forthrightness, the album-opening "Leap Of Innocence" even suggests she might find a way to fold the kind of songs she used to write into the music she writes now. She's not there yet, however, and while Somebody's Miracle marks an improvement over Liz Phair, there's still nothing revolutionary, or even memorable, happening here, just a lot of passable material from someone who proved she could do a lot better early on, even if she'd like the rest of us to forget it.


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