On her fifth try, Liz Phair has finally made a confessional pop-rock album in the mold of the Lilith Fair folkettes she's always towered above. If her claim that it's inspired by Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life is true, then Phair is stooping to conquer, attempting to show the world that her fears and desires -- especially her fear that her desires may be forever unfulfilled -- are as common as everyone else's.
This has its drawbacks. Phair's wordy narratives and pretty, elaborate arrangements tumble over each other with disorienting speed, and at times she tries to tidy up by tamping down their whip-smart contradictions. So her soaring song about exhaustion, "Wind and the Mountain," is a thrill, until the coda about breaking through to inspiration turns it into a "hang in there" dorm poster.
And even so, Phair is ultimately no more common than folkies like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, who in their prime also stooped to conventionality on occasion, only to outshine the competition like a moon hanging over the horizon outshines the city lights. And if nothing else, this ridiculously catchy and complex set of songs proves this 38-year-old's talents are still waxing.