There is a song on Liz Phair’s self-titled fourth album called “Rock Me,” and it’s a little like Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen”:Phair is dating a guy who’s nine years her junior, and he’s broke and not very smart, but he’s good at ripping off her dress, and he likes to tell her how smart she is, and this is what she wants.
And it’s weird, because when Donald Fagen talked about hanging out with a girl too young to know about Aretha Franklin, he felt so guilty that he had to snort mountains of Colombian coke to get through the conversation. But Phair loves it. She just wants to sit on the floor of the boy’s apartment and play with his Xbox. On her 1993 debut, Exile in Guyville, Phair deconstructed relationships with an insight that didn’t seem mortal. Now she plays videogames with some slacker dude. This is not what I want to hear.
But you know what? That’s fine. It’s not Liz Phair’s job to be the icon we want her to be; Liz Phair’s job is to reflect her own reality. And surrendering her spirit is evidently where she’s at right now. People keep accusing her of trying to become Sheryl Crow on this album, but that’s inaccurate–mostly because Crow’s songs are way catchier. The music on Liz Phair (produced in part by Avril Lavigne collaborators the Matrix) is boilerplate MOR. It lacks the emotive eccentricity of Phair’s first three records, and it won’t be enough to make Lavigne’s fans fall for her, either. But what Liz Phair delivers is authenticity: When she sings about her son’s interaction with her new boyfriend (“Little Digger”) or about the semidark secrets of her normal life (“Extraordinary”), she’s writing what she knows in a way Crow never will. And if it makes her happy, it can’t be that bad.