Ten years later, having put out two albums, "Whip-Smart" (1994) and "whitechocolatespaceegg" (1998), that were both greeted with mixed praise, she is now releasing her fourth — the eponymously titled and much anticipated "Liz Phair." It is, Ms. Phair has suggested, her bid for center stage — the moment when she will finally make the leap from indie-rock quasi-stardom to teen-pop levels of superstardom.
Instead, she has committed an embarrassing form of career suicide.
The album introduces a new Phair: a divorced, 36-year-old single mom who nonetheless gushes like a teenager through relentlessly upbeat songs with bland choruses like "Rock me all night!" and "I am extraordinary/ If you'd ever get to know me" — ironic, yes, but somewhat limply and shallowly so. You half expect the "i's" in her liner notes to be dotted with little hearts. In place of a sometime feminist icon, we have a woman approaching 40 getting dolled up in market-approved teen gear (the bad schoolgirl look, recently embraced by Britney Spears). She's junked her oddball, sui generis eccentricity for songs about thirtysomething traumas wrapped up in bubble-gum pop that plays off a cheap dissonance: underneath this sunny soundscape lies the darkness of life's hard-won lessons. This is a superficial way of jolting us, and the result is that Ms. Phair often sounds desperate or clueless; the album has some of the same weird self-oblivion of a middle-aged man in a mid-life crisis and a new Corvette.
Not only will Ms. Phair alienate her old fan base, as she has defensively acknowledged in recent interviews, but in trying to remodel herself as a contemporary Avril Lavigne or Alanis Morissette, she's revealed herself to be astonishingly tone-deaf to her own strengths.