"You're always so sick of me," Elizabeth Elmore sings at the beginning of To Force a Fate, the Reputation's Lookout debut. The sentiment doesn't quite match the effervescence of "Let This Rest"'s vintage indie riff. But the seesaw dynamic is typical of Elmore, who's expertly concealed emotional and relationship bitterness inside hooks and rousing guitar work since her days with Sarge. That clever illusion is amplified even more by To Force a Fate's expert pop tension. Sure, the opener's melody recalls the sugar of 2002's self-titled effort, as does the irresistible chorus of "Face it" (which also brings to mind Liz Phair's "Love/Hate"). But Elmore and the Reputation have made some real strides in songwriting, as Fate's less obvious moments make clear. "Follow-Through Time" features a piano that feels somehow, well, intellectual; it combines with a fuzzy guitar line and Elmore's ultimatum to a beau for a mature stab of pop. The piano returns for "The Ugliness Kicking Around," where a full-on string section intensifies the forlorn shades in Elmore's vocal. "I think it might be getting better," she sings at first, only to hope "It must be getting better" before settling on "It's got to get better." Other highlights include "The Lasting Effects," where an inventive arrangement weaves a male supporting vocal and subtle horn work into Elmore's jaded lead, and "Cartography," which moves the opposite way sonically, recalling vintage Seam with its crashing percussion and melancholy descending melody. Sarge's stirring late-'90s work and her subsequent re-emergence certainly established Elizabeth Elmore's Reputation. But To Force a Fate's thoughtful songwriting and dashes of indie rock anthemics cement it.
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus