In 2018, Liz Phair received her best reviews in 25 years with the re-release of her classic debut Exile in Guyville that also included the The Girly-Sound Tapes comprised of the lo-fi tracks she recorded around that time. The debut is an alt rock classic and the tapes were a fascinating look at the early songs, some of which would grow in stature on future albums. After completing a memoir in 2019, Phair returned to work with Exile’s producer Brad Wood on a new set of songs released as Soberish.
Many songs explore the world of dating as an adult. “Ba Ba Ba” is a standout pop track that speaks of wanting to tell a partner she feels safe with him before the music on the third verse ups the ante to make it a more thrilling ride. “Lonely Street” sees Phair more vulnerable as she switches to a falsetto in the chorus and tells a partner that “I’ve got friends to pick up the loose ends” before leaving another relationship with her “Good Side”.
Many of the themes on Soberish are ones that Phair’s fans from the 90s could certainly relate to however they are often pedestrian in either music or lyrics. On “In There” we’re told that her “confidence is shook, I don’t know where to look” and “Soul Sucker” doesn’t explain much more about a partner than what the title says. “Spanish Doors” succeeds on being a pretty good radio pop track and second single “Hey Lou” talks about Lou Reed getting high and talking shit about Warhol, making it one of the more memorable tracks of the early new year. Soberish hits just enough to keep fans engaged while Liz Phair manages to get a lot off her chest.
Bringing It All Back Home is the fifth Bob Dylan album and continues his departure away from focusing on mainly protest songs. Another Side of Bob Dylan released in 1964 presented more personal lyrics, here Dylan explores surreal imagery along with a touch of psychedelia thrown in. Controversially, the first side is devoted to electric songs played with a band while the second side is where longtime fans would find the mainly acoustic songs.
Dylan gives a nod to the beat poets with a blast of bluesy rock and roll on the opener “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. His first charting single in the US saw Dylan film a highly influential video for the track where he holds up cardboard cue cards with the lyrics written on them including the classic line, “Johnny’s in the basement, mixin’ up the medicine/I’m on the pavement, thinkin’ about the government”. “Maggie’s Farm” is a furious blast that was recorded in just one take as Dylan spits out the lyrics of working for little pay and no respect while you drive yourself insane.
The pace is slowed down on the love song “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and the midtempo “She Belongs to Me” that speaks of a bohemian who is “an artist, she don’t look back/she can take the dark out of the nighttime and paint the daytime black”. Side one closes with the six plus minutes of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” that breaks down into guffaws before the surreal track talks of the discovery of America.
Side two opens with one of Dylan’s most beloved songs in “Mr. Tambourine Man” that was later taken to #1 in the US by The Byrds. Originally intended for the previous year’s Another Side of Bob Dylan, the song regularly features on best of lists and countless Dylan compilations. The acoustic side closes with two very different tracks – the first being the seven minute “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”. The intense song is one that demands attention as Dylan tells us that “he not busy being born is busy dying” and that “I got nothing, Ma, to live up to”. Side two closes with “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, another track that is widely covered by other artists. Accompanied by the bass of Bill Lee, Dylan’s voice rises and falls with the music as he speaks about a love that is over or perhaps a goodbye to his younger self.
Dylan’s world was expanding during this time period as he met The Beatles for the first time, tried LSD, and in the summer of 1965 of would famously be booed at the Newport Folk Festival. Refusing to be just one type of songwriter that some want him to stay as, Dylan keeps growing and expanding his sound and lyrical inspiration. Bringing It All Back Home is another extraordinary album just three years and five albums into his then brief recording career.