Two decades back, a quiet, but direct voice appeared in popular music. Lisa Loeb’s plaintive “Stay (I Missed You)” topped the charts in 1994. It gave her the distinction of being the first person to land on the peak of the American Billboard chart without being signed to a record label. Since then, Loeb has maintained a busy life. Between her gigs of (tasteful) reality television forays, children’s entertainment (books and music), voiceover work, fashion (her own eyewear line), Loeb has continually carved her own niche.
No Fairy Tale, Loeb’s fifth (overall) studio album and first of original material since 2004, has the singer switch gears in how she frames her voice. Usually, Loeb’s voice swung between disinterested story telling or just right emotional revelation; here it hasn’t lost any of its power or grace. What makes it bite is the arrangements that snarl, snicker, and carry on around her. Punctuated drums, chewy guitar, rounded bass riffs all contrast playfully to Loeb’s lyrics.
The (slight) sonic makeover is courtesy of Newfound Glory member Chad Gilbert. This isn’t her first foray into “power pop” or non-acoustic spaces however. Many forget that her debut Tails (1995) rocked. Later albums also housed sonic evolutions as heard on the jazz-bop fusions of Firecracker (1997), the pop details of Cake and Pie (2002), and the reach-around-to-her-roots ebb of The Way It Really Is (2004). Regardless, Loeb’s voice, guitar, and lyrics remain focal in her work.
Loeb is now a mother and wife, so the songs veer into ponderable territories that are humorous (“The 90’s”) but honest (“The Worst”). The title track, “No Fairy Tale,” playfully admonishes wishing for more than what one desires; instead it’s about enjoying what one has and what may be.
“Weak Day” is the clearest portrait into a section of Loeb’s own psyche and closest to the “classic Lisa” blueprint; the song let Loeb share her own story, yet step outside of it. This gift separated Loeb from her more overtly ambitious peers in Jewel and Sheryl Crow. “A Hot Minute” (written by current female musician darling duo Tegan & Sara) shocks in its layered, rhythmic beats. It surprisingly hangs well with the other new wave-y bits of No Fairy Tale.
Loeb isn’t ready to be relegated to the music history books as a 90’s relic. As she has before, No Fairy Tale fantastically captures the human experience through Loeb’s own life lens and others who inspire her. It succeeds a step further in being bold enough to reinvent her musical context and present her ideas through new sounds. It may not set the charts alight, but then again as Loeb rhapsodies on the titular cut, she never was one “to bear the weight of the glitter and the glue” of fame. Loeb’s notoriety comes through and from her art, as it should.
[Editor’s Note: No Fairy Tale is available at physical and digital outlets now. For current information, including tour dates, visit Lisa Loeb’s official site.-QH]