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Liz Phair - Soberish (Album Review)

Monday, 14 June 2021 Written by Rebecca Llewellyn

‘Soberish’ is the album that marks a return to music for alt-rock legend Liz Phair. With this being her first release in over a decade, anticipation has percolated among fans and the industry at large following recent in-depth visits to her past through the avenues of reissue and memoir. Far removed from the indie-grunge of ‘Exile in Guyville’, her towering mid-90s statement, Phair instead embraces a soft, but by no means gentle, rock montage approach on ‘Soberish’.

Despite a frank and fierce reputation, Phair and returning ‘Exile in Guyville’ producer Brad Wood strike the balance just right between lyrical honesty and a slick sound on ‘Soberish’. Look no further than opening track Spanish Doors for proof. Its guitars and percussion dance off one another, while Phair’s words are so achingly raw that we can practically taste the sting of liquor as it pours down our throats.

Spearheaded by a blend of punchy pop and bitingly reflective songwriting, ‘Soberish’ sees Phair ditch her country-pop style of the ‘00s and lose that rock sneer to instead transition into a vocal sound that suits her as she is now.

To compare the Liz Phair of today to the Liz Phair of the mid-90s would be unfair, yet an obvious compulsion. Here she owns the distance. 

What makes ‘Soberish’ bold is the fact that Phair does not seem to care what critics, or anyone else for that matter, thinks of it. Revelling in her loss at “The Game” of love, Phair also sticks two fingers up to the world on the powerful Hey Lou and owns her insecurities on Good Side. Sweeter sentiments, meanwhile, are buried within the tender romantic notions of Lonely Street and Ba Ba Ba.

But while the record makes no apologies for not appealing to everyone, there are inconsistencies that weigh it down at times. Punchy pop meets painfully cheesy pop on one too many occasions, meaning Phair’s lyrics lose their lustre. It pays to pay attention, too, as at times the real meaning of the songs might be lost beneath an all-American kind of sheen.

Still, there is something magical within ‘Soberish’ and its stark truths. We are left with the impression that it is an album written for no-one other than Liz Phair herself. Oh, and not to forget its mocking sting, capable of giving any ex-lover whiplash.


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