While Liz Phair last released an album of new material in 2010 (the regrettable "Funstyle," her diversion into hip-hop), she’s been rebooting her career for the past few years. In 2018 she released an expanded edition of her '90s classic "Exile in Guyville" including early "Girly-Sound" demos. Then in 2019, she published the memoir "Horror Stories."
"Guyville" established Phair as a bracing, iconoclastic voice, ready to attack indie-rock’s male hegemony and celebrate female sexual desires. Her new release, "Soberish," reunites her with "Guyville" producer Brad Wood, and it has some of its predecessor’s punchy tunefulness and raunchy directness.
Phair is too self-aware and self-possessed to try to recreate her youthful brashness, but she has held on to her sharp tongue (affectionately challenging Lou Reed on “Hey Lou,” a highlight) and sexual appetite (on the too-obvious “Bad Kitty,” not a highlight).
"Soberish" doesn’t neglect the pop chops she honed in the middle of her career (which spawned the 2003 hit “Why Can’t I”). While it foregrounds indie rock swagger, it makes room for the sweet ballad “Lonely Street” and the understated electro-pop of “In There” and lots of impressively intertwining vocal lines.
“There’s so many ways to f— up a life/ I try to be original,” she sings in “Good Side,” and much of "Soberish" finds Phair both celebrating and regretting mistakes, so it’s apt that the album’s inconsistency, like her career’s, is part of the overall appeal. — Steve Klinge
Georgia Anne Muldrow