TO BURY LIZ PHAIR.
"I bet it makes you laugh/watching me work so hard to reach you."
Halfway through Somebody's Miracle, the second album of the glossy, radio pop reinvention of Liz Phair's career, the first single opens with that couplet and kicks off the most telling, depressing series of three songs I've heard in years.
I've written about Liz Phair's tranformation from an honest-to-god indie rock artiste to a top 40 commodity before, but the character of Somebody's Miracle (due out in October, but on the P2P networks already) is something different than the work-for-hire party girl mania of 2003's self-titled paradigm shift. It was clear before that Phair was forcibly wedging her own songwriting style into line with what the people from the Matrix (Avril Lavigne, Lillix, um... Pink, I think) were trying to do; the results were awkward, for the most part. But on Somebody's Miracle, she appears to have jettisonned the fake-y obvious approach of the Matrix for the genuine obvious approach of Sheryl Crow. Her songs are generally more melancholy than those of Liz Phair, but no more interesting; if anything, they're blander.
"Everything to Me," the single, leads into what I suspect will be, for indie rock fans of a certain age, the biggest black hole of the year. "Can't Get Out of What I'm Into" is an old Liz Phair song -- it appeared on her original demo set, Girlysound, way back in 1991. Back then, Liz had just her low alto voice, an acoustic guitar and a crappy tape recorder. Now, she has a full band and no connection to what made her write this song a decade and a half ago. Why can't Liz get out of what she's into? "'Cause it's a steady job/and it's the only thing that makes me money/and it gives me something to laugh about/'cause my real life ain't fuckin' funny." The things she has to do "would make a slut blush blue," but she can't get out of what she's into. She figures "two more years" and she'll "go back to school," but she can't get out of what she's into.
Playing out loud and backed by a full band, it's the most jarring and heartbreaking musical tranformation since Starship. The song ends with Phair asking, "Why have you forsaken me?" I don't think this question was meant to be rhetorical in 1991, but I hope it is now. This song -- this recording of this song -- briefly made me tear up; listening to it is like death.
"Table For One," a major key, AAA-friendly dirge follows. Borrowing much of the style of Liz Phair's horrible "Little Digger," the song fairly screams for help. Over plucked guitars and the inevitable string section, Phair sings about stolen memories and people's lost faith in her. She wants "to die alone," with her sympathy beside her, "to bring down all those people" who drank with her.
I feel like she's screaming to me, but who is the "we" that "me" is a part of? "Those people" can't save her; "those people" tried, and Somebody's Miracle is their reward. She openly said, during the promotion for Liz Phair, that she was making a sellout record because Capitol didn't think more of the same would sell or make anything of her career. I disagree and would give anything (that's the rhetorical "anything") to hear the An Evening With Liz Phair sessions that got scrapped, but I've made peace with that. But if Liz Phair was a trojan horse gambit to bring "What Makes You Happy" and "May Queen" to people who just wanted "Why Can't I," how can she cry out for rescue on Somebody's Miracle? Damn it, you got your commercial success -- take the fucking rope and climb up.