It’s been more than a decade since Liz Phair’s last record, and for her return to the spotlight she paired once again with Brad Wood, the producer behind two of her most important albums (Exile in Guyville, Whip-Smart andwhitechocolatespaceegg). Unfortunately, Soberish lacks the energy and immediacy of those three groundbreaking albums.
That’s not to say this one is a bad effort; it’s a solid album crammed with good, occasionally great songs, that brim with Phair’s witty lyrics, but the overall vibe is just so… mellow, which will come as a surprise to anyone who has seen her spirited live shows over the past few years.
In working with Wood, Phair told him her vision for this album. “I said to Brad I don’t know how many times: ‘I want this record to have an identifiable sound, but I want it to be something different that you haven’t really heard before. I want it to sound exactly like this record,’” Phair explains. And as confusing as that sounds, it doesn’t sound like she’s retreading on familiar territory. Soberish is a big step away from her flirtation with Hip Hop on 2010’s Funstyle, but it also doesn’t completely go back to the lo-fi fantastically sloppy sound of Exile or Whip-Smart.
The opening track, the driving “Spanish Doors,” is also one of the standout songs here featuring Phair’s knack for writing a catchy hook and memorable chorus. Elsewhere, “Dosage,” another stellar track, boasts her lyrical trademark mix of optimism and heartbreak. Soberish is a decent album, but one that unfairly or not, has to live up to a 10 year build up.