Liz Phair's fourth LP is an exercise in rebirth: She's gone pop with a convert's evangelical zeal, attempting to scuttle for good the decade-long shadow of Exile in Guyville. While it's true that, musically, Liz Phair doesn't invite comparison to Guyville, the lyrics are unmistakably Phair -- though the years have dampened her bite -- and the new record is as unapologetic as Guyville in its dismantling of female stereotype.
This deconstruction seldom satisfies, however. In articulating female desire and disappointment, Guyville was as deep as it was raw. It was a necessary album. Liz Phair is an unnecessary album. Acknowledging the guilty pleasure post-adolescent women often glean from the cutesy-pie pop of Britney and Avril, the album attempts to fill some niche in the market for a more mature take on "Complicated" and the like. Fine. But Phair's self-consciousness in addressing her rediscovered lust for crushes and making out renders songs such as "Rock Me" terminally callow. It's the musical analogue to Sheryl Crow's ever-bared midriff; rather than asserting that older women can still be sexy -- in their own sharper and more meaningful way -- it worships and conforms to girliness. The idea that Liz Phair, a goddess of indie rock, needs to reinvent herself as a mere teen-pop princess is disheartening, and the songs just aren't strong enough to make the disappointment go away.