Liz Phair alienated a large portion of her audience with her 2003 extreme pop makeover, where she didn't just go pop, she went teen pop, collaborating with the Matrix and winding up sounding something like Avril Lavigne's aunt. It wasn't exactly what fans raised on Exile in Guyville either wanted or expected and they were vocal in their displeasure, yet Phair made it very clear in her supporting press for the album that she didn't care that they were upset: she was no longer the woman who made Exile, and had no interest in trying to write or sound that way anymore, which was pretty evident from the album at hand. She wanted to cash in that indie cred and become a star, and Liz Phair did indeed bring her success, including her first Top 40 hit with "Why Can't I?," which tended to diminish the sniping of her critics, even if it didn't necessarily dismiss their criticisms. Most of the criticisms were focused on the Matrix-fueled pop singles, since they were flashy, ostentatious examples of how Phair wanted to play on a bigger field, but apart from those singles, Liz Phair concentrated on tasteful, well-polished, sturdy adult alternative pop that was not dissimilar to work by such peers as Michael Penn and Aimee Mann. That, not the desperate teen pop, is the touchstone for Somebody's Miracle, her sequel to the 2003 affair.
Now that she's made a clean break from indie rock, severing herself from her past to such an extent that she will never be judged alongside such 1993 peers as PJ Harvey, Tanya Donelly, and Stephen Malkmus, she's content to make a full-fledged, unabashed adult alternative album, one that's so scrubbed and polished, transitions between songs are nearly imperceptible. If the last album was her attempt to be Avril, this is her Sheryl Crow album, pitched halfway between the bright surfaces of C'mon, C'mon and the laid-back, classy Globe Sessions, and while that's a maturer vibe, it doesn't necessarily always fit Phair well. There are two main, interrelated problems here: the production, largely credited to John Alagía but there are four other producers here, is so smooth and polished, the album winds up sounding kind of dull, particularly because Phair's thin, reedy voice just isn't suited for big, overblown productions like this. As soon as "Leap of Innocence" kicks off the album, she sounds diminished by the immaculate recording and then she starts going flat toward the end of her phrases. She not only sounds overwhelmed by the music, but she can't command attention to either her words or melodies, so the entire album becomes a wash of sound. Since it's well produced and professional, it's a pleasing wash of sound, but it's nevertheless kind of boring, which is unfortunate because Phair has a pretty good batch of songs here, ranging from the stark first-person tale of alcoholism "Table for One" to catchy pop tunes like "Stars and Planets" and "Got My Own Thing." These are good adult pop tunes and if they were given a production that wasn't so inflated, this would be quite an appealing record. But that record wouldn't be a mainstream album that would place Phair on a level with Sheryl Crow. It would be for a niche audience, and after her experience as a '90s indie rock queen, she is no longer interested in a niche audience, as this album and its predecessor make clear. But Phair isn't particularly good as an artist for a wide audience -- not only is her voice too small for this kind of production, her songs sound better when they're not given inflated productions. Plus, her best material is either too risky or literary or quirky to be radio hits -- and there's no greater proof of that than the pleasant but dull Somebody's Miracle.