Faced with the dilemma of following up a critically reviled album, Liz Phair has made the mistake of attempting to please everyone—both the rock nerds who still get blue-balls listening to Exile in Guyville and the Hot Topic kids who championed the reinvented Phair as Avril’s gold-certified MILF—and has ended up with an album, Somebody’s Miracle, that’s sure to meet no one’s expectations. At this point, it would’ve been impossible for Phair to reconcile the two disparate phases of her career, and that’s largely Phair’s own doing. What her interviews around the time of 2003’s Liz Phair consistently displayed was a bizarre sort of contempt for the audience who, a decade on, still responded so strongly to the brilliant opening salvo of Guyville—she just never seemed to “get” the album’s critical reception. And in stating her ambition for breaking through to a massive pop audience, she claimed that she needed the assistance of powerhouse production team the Matrix, ignoring the fact that, but for running her vocals through ProTools and for keeping her guitars in tune, singles like “Never Said” and “Supernova” already made it clear that she had a strong pop sensibility. While the singles from Liz Phair weren’t the least bit bad—and certainly didn’t deserve the bile spewed over them—they were sorely, irrevocably lacking in Phair’s unique gifts. Ashlee Simpson could’ve had a hit with “Why Can’t I,” and Michelle Branch with “Extraordinary.”
With Somebody’s Miracle, Phair has either read too much of her own press, perhaps recognizing that she’d alienated almost the entirety of her existing fanbase, or has grossly misinterpreted the source of those minor-hit singles’ charms. Sacrificing the pitch correction technology on a set of songs that’s supposed to maintain some semblance of commercial momentum (to choose just one of the many flaws on the album) wasn’t the right move. Of course, that she’s said repeatedly that Somebody’s Miracle was inspired by Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life suggests that it’s a fundamental incapacity for getting things that’s Phair’s real problem, since there’s not a song on the album to support that comparison. It’s an album of Hot AC at its most aggressively banal, sure to alienate the bulk of her new fans by issuing a set of songs that come off as a warmed-over collection of b-sides from her under-appreciated 1998 album whitechocolatespaceegg. With the exception of the fun melodic hook of “Got My Own Thing,” there isn’t a song on Somebody’s Miracle that stands up to repeated listens and there certainly isn’t a song that demands such attention. Lead single “Everything to Me,” a morass of clichéd schmaltz, isn’t going to end up in a WNBA commercial.
If Somebody’s Miracle were an album by, say, Anna Nalick, none of this would matter too much, but Phair has waived her right to get off so easily by having been fearless and brilliant (even if that brilliance, in retrospect, seems like a fluke) earlier in her career. Were Clair Denis suddenly to decide to direct a Nora Ephron screenplay, there would be such hemming and hawing that figuring out her motives would emerge as far more interesting than the film itself. So, too, is Phair’s calculated decision to transmogrify from indie rock’s beloved blowjob queen into a would-be teen-pop ingénue and now into Sheryl Crow without the accurate sense of pitch infinitely more compelling than any of the deliberately inoffensive MOR of Somebody’s Miracle. Landing here reaffirms that Phair neither respects whatever audience has formed an ephemeral bond with her nor understands the strengths of her craft. If she still manages to retain a major label recording contract after this bomb, that’ll be the real miracle.