Liz Phair

whitechocolatespaceegg

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Following the halfhearted reception to Whip-Smart -- good enough to retain her critical stature, not good enough to enhance it -- Liz Phair slowly retreated from view, marrying and having a child. Toward the end of 1996, she began to work on her third album, but it took her nearly a year and a half to compete it, due to a variety of reasons. When whitechocolatespaceegg (a reference to her baby boy's shiny bald head) finally appeared in late summer 1998, it had been a full five years since Exile in Guyville, and nowhere was that more apparent than in Phair's third album itself. Certain familiar elements remained -- her plain vocals, strummed guitars, and character songs -- but this was a brighter, cleaner, more content Phair. There was none of the emotional turmoil that underpinned Exile and, to a lesser extent, Whip-Smart. Even if the songs concerned violent emotions, there is a studied distance between her and the songs here, whether it's the character study "Uncle Alvarez" or "Johnny Feelgood," where the female narrator is beaten up and likes it. In other words, whitechocolatespaceegg is the work of a craftsman, not an inspired work of brilliance like Exile. And while that may alienate some hardcore fans, that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially since the best moments -- "Big Tall Man," "Baby Got Going," "Go On Ahead," "What Makes You Happy," "Johnny Feelgood," and the Girlysound leftover "Shitloads of Money" -- are tuneful and literate. Still, there's a distance, not only in the lyrics but in the overly polished music, that makes whitechocolatespaceegg difficult to embrace unconditionally, even if it may be a stronger record than Whip-Smart.

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