Thursday, February 28, 2013

Staying Power

When she suddenly appeared at the top of the charts in the 1990s, Lisa Loeb managed to both twist and solidify the image of the female singer-songwriter for much of the last 18 years. With retro cats-eye glasses that gave her a sort of nerdy hipster image (before that image was even really known as such), literate and confessional lyrics that dove into the deep end of intimacy, relationship issues and the melancholy reality surrounding them all and a quirkily cute air, she summoned the Manic Pixie Dream Girl when Zooey Deschanel was still in junior high.

Loeb's also had a yen for catchy pop hooks -- it might not seem that the same woman who sang "Stay (I Missed You)" could also write "I Do," but she did and often mixes the two. After spending the last half of the last decade focusing on children's music, Loeb opened 2013 by releasing her first "grown-up" album in almost 10 years, No Fairy Tale.

Loeb mostly skips the low-key acoustic folk style that's characterized her work for a collection of power-pop think pieces that highlight her gift for inventive wordplay. "Matches" and "Married" are bright and fun-sounding twists on her usual relational musings, with the latter adding some of the perspective that years and her own life as a wife and mother have given her. While "Ami, I'm Sorry" is definitely in the mode of the folkie-confessional Loeb that hit with "Stay," "The '90s" is a sly jab at nostalgia about the pop culture of a decade when the idea of a single pop culture began to fall apart. When the it girl of the 1990s, the one who was so "indie" she had a number one hit without even a record deal, says she doesn't want to go back there, then you might have a hint it's time to grow up.

Fans who adore Loeb's confessional writing and her folk side may not enjoy No Fairy Tale as much as some of her earlier work, but it'll be hard to find someone having more fun on a record than she is here. And it turns out her fun is about as contagious and engaging as her introspection, which makes Fairy Tale a great candidate for frequent repeats.

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