Liz Phair Soberish

Soberish is Liz Phair’s first album in 11 years. There is a lot riding on this one. Her 1993 debut Exile in Guyville is an enduring alt-rock touchstone. Her mid-2000s foray into radio-friendly pop? Not so much. Unlike certain other artists for whom this is true—say, Weezer—Phair largely took the 2010s off. She reissued Guyville, with an excellent box set of early bedroom recordings, and toured on it.

She worked, for a while, on a song-by-song response to the Beatles’ White Album. After several women accused the record’s would-be producer of sexual abuse, Phair scrapped it. And thank God for that: Soberish is far more honest, forthright, and heartfelt than any concept album. It is a solid, sharply written record of sturdy, enjoyable songs that gradually unfold to reveal new depths of feeling.

It doesn’t sound like Guyville, not even with Guyville producer Brad Wood at the helm. It doesn’t sound like the glossy “Why Can’t I,” which is really not such a bad song. It doesn’t, mercifully, sound anything like the frenzied rap stylings of “Bollywood.” Instead, Phair opts for tasteful, timeless rock arrangements.

She hones in on a few key themes: falling in love at 54, falling out of it; falling into bars, hauling herself out of them. She is refreshingly frank about her struggles with sobriety, firm and empathetic when she refers her friends to recovery. It’s like Brandy Jensen’s beloved Ask a Fuck-Up column; you trust Phair’s advice because you know she’s seen the bottom of the barrel.

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