She's a tricky one, this exile from the record bins. She tells truths, but never really makes clear whose, which confused those who loved her "honesty" the first two times 'round and alienated those who thought the third album too third-person to matter. (Liz Phair singing as a male was as pointed and prescient as Jay McInerney writing as a woman, and there it is.) This time, five long years after she laid a Whitechocolatespacegg and retreated into domesticity and then divorce, there's no doubt who's singing about whom here: the songwriter in first-person unless she's speaking about herself in third-person in reference to the Xbox-boytoy she's screwing who doesn't "even know who Liz Phair is," which only gets her hotter before he rips off her dress and lets her play with his joystick. The more things change, seems, the more things return to normal: Liz Phair's back in the sack and glad to be back.
Those who'd damn her for working with The Matrix, who pasted the plasticine sneer onto Avril Lavigne's Sassy mug, miss the point; hers is not punk-pop for preteens, a manufactured rage for all-the-rage radio. Phair makes pop for adults, those of us who want sugar-sweet confections as dessert but know we ultimately need protein and fiber as our daily sustenance. What she offers this time around isn't angry-girl indie or wannabe-star rock, but grown-up music intended to crack a Top 40 that doesn't exist. (Besides, you can tell which songs Michael Penn got his hands around--they're the ones that sound like Aimee Mann without all the boring.) Liz Phair is subversive, in other words, a disc of catchy-catchy (or sticky-sticky, in one case) songs with real substance beneath the shiny veneer, be it the one about introducing her shy young son to new boyfriends ("Little Digger") or the one about how good it feels to love someone other than your other ("Why Can't I?") or the one about how she's just a nice, normal girl in need of "a primitive fix" ("Extraordinary," which echoes Weezer just so) or the one about growing up and not caring what anyone else thinks ("Love/Hate Transmission," very Who). Pray the kids don't sneak a listen; they'll love it but ask you, Mom, what's "hot white cum?"
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Phair's still sexually proactive, which will tickle anyone who still gets a kick out of hearing a girl sing "fuck me"; and you don't include a song called "H.W.C." (or "Hot White Cum," of which she can't get enough, if only to clear her skin and mind) if you're trying to ditch the fuck-and-run rep altogether. But there are consequences now, and a marriage in ruins fills the album's final tracks: "Tell me what can I say to keep you in my life," she wonders, knowing it's not enough just to keep it surprising and exciting. Still, this is hardly a d-i-v-o-r-c-e disc, a Here, My Dear downer--you know Phair, right? The girl who asks, "Isn't the best part of breaking up finding someone else you can't get enough of?" That's her.