Like Bob Dylan before her, Liz Phair is a lot smarter than the audience she supposedly betrayed through the embrace of dread pop music. But unlike Dylan, Phair's greatest music did indeed precede her alleged betrayal -- which means not just the deathless touchstone Exile in Guyville (which I do adore) but the crafty, colossally underrated songwriter's exercise Whitechocolatespaceegg, which felt like a more likely career model.
The moment of negation -- 2003's Liz Phair (which, by the way, included a divorced-mommy song Tammy Wynette could never have topped) -- wasn't quite as plain as detractors claimed. Phair's ostensible goal was to master the generalities of chart-pop without losing her personality in the process. But aside from the pitch-perfect sneak-attack single "Why Can't I," she was too self-conscious about the conceit to totally pull it off.
Somebody's Miracle is plainer than Liz Phair, but also purer. Outside of a tough alcoholic's lament ("Table for One") that could be an Exile update, the surfaces here are uniformly generic. Sometimes, like on the surging "Count On My Love," the songs are all surface. More often, Phair sneaks in small details that transform the meaning of the otherwise moon-June-spoon generalities. "Leap of Innocence" is a wistful, evenhanded remembrance of a past love, but you find out two-thirds of the way through that the affair was extramarital. "Lost Tonight" could be Mandy Moore until the very adult, very carnal, very self-aware "Yeah, I'm not that kind of girl/But I could be for you." And best of all is the paired "Somebody's Miracle" and "Got My Own Thing." On the former, she aches for the forever and ever amen most indie-rock Peter Pans can't conceive. On the latter, she erases lingering self-pity with an acknowledgement that someone as smart and beautiful as Liz Phair always has the upper-hand.-- Chris Herrington