CD cover artwork rarely accurately recreates the music contained on the disc. Often the expressionist paintings and fuzzy photography are simply statements as artistic as the music itself. Every once in a while, a CD will (gasp!) feature a picture of the artist on the front. This introduces the artist to his/her audience and puts a face with a name. More established artists tend to shy away from this practice, as evidenced by Radiohead’s complete lack of existence, at least art work wise, since The Bends. Thank God for Liz Phair. She bucks the trend by placing her face on the cover of Somebody’s Miracle. In fact, each of her last two CDs has explained the music simply through its use of cover art.
Liz Phair was her attempt at mainstream success. After years without a record, Liz decided to show how youthful she remained and how pertinent she was to the current music scene. In order to show that, Liz spread her legs with only a guitar blocking the view of her crotch. It foreshadowed the whoring of her sound to commercial radio stations and weepy chick flick soundtracks, as well as her last ditch effort at shocking a stuffy nation (Exhibit A: “H.W.C.”, which stands for hot white cum).
Somebody’s Miracle finds Liz returning to form, or at least a diluted form of herself. Just look at the artwork. It features a close-up headshot, as if to indicate the rejection of the last album’s studio sheen (sorry, Liz, I ain’t buying it). More importantly it appears to by a photocopy of a photocopy. The black and white image is grainy and pixilated. Liz Phair’s music on Somebody’s Miracle reflects her current image: a bad copy of a bad copy. No longer is she trying to be shocking with “H.W.C.” or spread legs. She’s reserved and proper. And God dammit if that stance isn’t the most boring fucking thing in the world.
I miss the Liz Phair of old, the one who seemed like she’d ask you over to meet her parents, then give you a blow job in the coat closet. And now that Liz is all grown up with a kid of her own, her life is one giant snooze fest. Unlike most people, Whitechocolatespaceegg was my introduction to Liz, and it’s also a fine album. The studio polish that many critics attacked works well with the music because it’s varied, and the songs are good. They’re frequently inventive and witty. But when that studio polish has few good songs behind it, as on Somebody’s Miracle, we’re left with a void much deeper than is possible on lo-fi recordings.
The opener, “Leap of Innocence”, has an awful verse melody. It’s meandering and strained, and Liz weakly goes into her falsetto. But the chorus is a catchy pop statement, as catchy as anything she’s ever written. This proves the overarching theme: frequent moments of crap followed by calculated/inspired pop bliss. “Wind and the Mountain” is repetitive but expertly crafted. That only pertains to the verse. The chorus is as bloody awful as the verse of “Leap of Innocence”. “Stars and Planets” has its relative charm, but the word “shine” is repeated 54 times. Christ! The title track is pure schmaltz with a wah-wah guitar and undergraduate love poetry lyrics. The verse of “Lazy Dreamer” is as adventurous as Liz gets with rhythm (it’s still 4/4 time, but the snare isn’t always struck on two and four!). And, of course, the first single, “Everything to Me”, is a terrible exercise is excess. That song could fit in with any adult contemporary genre, be it pop, rock, or country.
The CD is not all bad, and it’s certainly not the complete disaster some critics want it to be. Sometimes Liz squeezes some life out of the muse, but those occasions are rare. Often the pop goodness overcomes common sense, the same way a song like “Toxic” can convert even the most grizzled pop music haters. The verse of “Count on My Love” is remarkably similar to The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights”. The chorus is almost as killer, too. Then, the music drops out after the bridge (a listless bridge at that) to leave a beautiful vocal chrous. If you can remember to ignore the lyrics, “You can count on my love/ An umbrella when it’s raining/ When you feel your hope is fading”, you’re in for glossy studio magic.
If you have few discriminating tastes and cannot read or speak English, this album might be your favorite pop record this fall. Liz could have even have turned the record into a keeper if she had limited the track list to ten songs and utilized a more discerning producer. As it stands, fans will have to wait a few more years before another possible Exile in Guyville Part Two. Guess what guys, it’s never going to happen.