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Liz Phair – Soberish (Album)

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That’s when she put out her most sugary pop record, an album so slick that it both blasted up the charts and infuriated the indie rock kids who had once worshiped her. The bedroom pop queen had become the wicked witch of the Top 40, “an embarrassing form of career suicide,” as the New York Times put it.

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In this convenient narrative, an emotionally battered Phair withdraws to her Malibu mansion with the complete “My So-Called Life” on VHS and abandons pop music.

“But that’s not what happened to me,” Phair says in a recent Zoom interview from her home in Los Angeles. “Did 2003 make me want to break? Yes. But so did 1998 and so did 1997 and so did 1995. They all made me want to take a break because the music business is so screwed up.”

It is almost summer and Phair is doing this interview because “Soberish,” her first album of original songs in more than 10 years, will be out June 4 on Chrysalis Records. The album marks a reunion with producer Brad Wood, her musical partner on her acclaimed debut, 1993’s “Exile in Guyville,” and its follow-up, 1994’s “Whip-Smart.”

“Exile” charted the emotional terrain of a supremely 20-something universe with an unaffected, intimate charm. “Soberish” is both a throwback and a reinvention. The songs are stripped of the gloss of her Capitol Record debut but it isn’t jangly, lo-fi pop.

“Soberish” is also sung by an adult. It’s a relationship record where the awkward spaces are framed by experience and perspective, not post-dorm fumbling.

“Everyone’s got a maze inside their heart,” she sings on the title track. “The best we can do is pick a place to start.”

“Yes, I look at the bad stuff and I think of the good that came out of it, and only a 53-year-old would do that because you wouldn’t have had the hindsight to do it at a younger age,” says Phair, who turned 54 in April. “It’s not magical.

It’s because you decide not to be defeated. You decide to take what you’ve got and turn it into something. ‘Soberish,’ to me, is a lot about the beginnings of things, the endings of things, the state between two states. . . . I’m interested in transitional, undefined territory, and I think that is an older person’s game.”

In conversation, Phair can take a single moment and examine it from different angles. Her triumphant, indie debut was, in fact, not a particularly joyful moment, but packed with anxiety and trauma “and the closest I ever got to being anorexic.” Her fall in the early 2000s was not all terrible: The pressure of touring a major-label record pushed her to get better — “it probably saved me as a performer,” she says — and introduced her to a different audience. She still performs some of those songs.

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