By Bob Ruggiero
By Hilary Hughes
By Peter Gerstenzang
By David R. Adler
By Devon Maloney
By Brian McManus
By Jessica Hopper
By Harley Oliver Brown
Shining Some Glory
By Robert Christgau
Many are scandalized that Liz Phair "turned to" (the correct verb, as in "a life of crime") Avril Lavigne producers the Matrix for her first album in five years. As someone who likes the idea of Avril Lavigne but finds her music too slow and mushy for faux punk, I was worried, not scandalizedand more worried to learn that Phair had also turned to Pete Yorn's producer and Aimee Mann's husband, who've yet to give the world a "Sk8er Boi" between them. But I wasn't scandalized then either. Artists will sleep with anybody they think is good for a ride. With Liz Phair, that goes double.
So then I played the advance and stopped worrying. Liz Phairmay not be her best album, but don't bet on it. For sure it's the one I want to hear right now, next month, all year. It includes no bad songsat worst a couple of dubious or uninspired onesand four or five every bit as indelible as "Flower" (which, Christina fans, is where Ms. Phair famously aspired to the title "blowjob queen" a decade ago). Unfortunately, my promo didn't indicate who oversaw what. So just for fun I guessed. My reasoning on the five great ones, in ascending order:
"Extraordinary": lead track IDing Phair as "average everyday sane psycho supergoddess." Unrequited love lyric with nice audience overtones ("Stand in the street, yell out my heart/To make to make you love me"), also "So I still take the trash out/Does that make me too normal for you?"), big mushy catchy pseudoheavy verse, chorus catchier than that. Definitely Matrix.
"Favorite": compares old lover to "my favorite underwear" in over-the-top metaphor ("leave you lying on the bedroom floor," "thought we were falling apart"). Themewise I'd say Yorn's guy Walt Vincent; also, would the Matrix risk her naked voice enunciating "You're like my favorite underwear" or closing with "Slipping you on again tonight"? Quite possiblyradio eats up the risqué these days. And the loud drums-guitar-voices intro-chorus sounds hitbound, theoretically. Matrix again.
"Hot White Cum": official title "H.W.C." Cross-collateralization notwithstanding, Capitol wouldn't waste Matrix bucks on the line "All you do is fuck me every day and night." Strummed intro, clear unaugmented vocal, cheery electro-handclaps behind "Give me your hot white cum" chorus, harmonica solo. Could be Michael Penn, but Aimee Mann couldn't rock this hard on a motorized hobbyhorse. Make it Vincent.
"Little Digger": Liz's kid finds her in bed with guy not his dad. Classic Phairspare instrumentation, wavery pitch, strange melody precluding the Trisha Yearwood cover the lyric deserves. Zero Clear Channel potential. Note awkwardly repetitive (hence emphatic) directness of must-quote verse: "I've done the damage/The damage is done/I pray to God/ That I'm the damaged one." What Mann (also womann) oughta be. Penn.
"Rock Me": Liz screws a piece of young stuff more senseless than he was when he started. Not the lead single only because everyone's chicken to find out that Phair's bid for the gold didn't work. The chorus rules; its "rock me all night long" evasion has been radio-ready for half a century. The blowjob queen's most sex-positive song yet. Gotta be Matrix.
Scandalized? How dumb. I can't explain the technical stuff, but I'd describe the Matrix's sound with Lavigne as "generalized." No matter who produced what (which since I did get all five right must mean something), that's how this album comes acrosskeybs everywhere, voice big and in tune. Only with Phair, this generalizationwhile definitely ambitious, tsk tskis also an act of love (toward Christina fans and such) and a reaffirmation of the sexual appetites she's indulged since she was exiled in Guyville, a sobriquet she devised to insult the indie world oh so long ago. Five years later, she put in quality time as a matron-artiste; now, single again at 36, she further insults the indie world by successfully fusing the personal and the universal, challenging lowest-common-denominator values even as it fellates them. You want her to express herself? She just did.