It’s almost three decades since Liz Phair brought uncompromisingly frank lyrics and a feminist sensibility to the boys’ club that was the early 90s US alt-rock scene. In her first album in 11 years, she is reunited with Brad Wood, producer of her career high points, 1993’s Exile in Guyville and the following year’s Whip-Smart. But anybody hoping for a return to the days when she was a genuinely exciting proposition will be disappointed: the focus here is far more on the mainstream pop and soft-rock of Phair’s post-94 oeuvre than the spiky indie that preceded it.
It’s not as excruciating as 2010’s Funstyle, with its misfiring experiments with dance beats and pitchshifted vocals, but at least that was entertainingly bad in places. While it’s clear from Soberish that Phair still knows her way around an arresting confessional lyric – witness Good Side’s opening: “There are so many ways to fuck up a life/ I’ve tried to be original” – musically, this is unforgivably mediocre. A memorable chorus will occasionally appear from nowhere, as on Hey Lou (and Soul Sucker wins points for its unexpected nod to Blue Boy’s Remember Me), but for the most part the coffee-table pop on offer here is remarkable only for being so forgettable. Tracks such as In There and The Game sound like mechanically recovered leftovers from Madonna’s Ray of Light album sessions; more upbeat opener Spanish Doors is Carly Rae Jepsen as reimagined by outdated AI software. Best avoided.