6/10• No Fairy Tale
• The ’90s
• Weak Day
• A Hot Minute
• Sick, Sick, Sick
• Swept Away
• He Loved You So Much
• Ami, I’m Sorry
• The Worst To most British listeners, Lisa Loeb is best known – well, let’s face it, only known – for her 1995 hit ‘Stay (I Missed You)’ and her subsequent Best Newcomer gong at the following year’s Brit Awards, where she suffered the ignominy of having her surname pronounced ‘Lobey’ by the award’s presenter Tom Jones. Much like other pop-rock hits of the ’90s such as Deep Blue Something’s ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ and Crash Test Dummies’ ‘Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm’, ‘Stay’ is one of those songs that’s certain to push the nostalgic pleasure buzzers of anyone over the age of thirty.
The introductory peal of Loeb’s acoustic guitar and the slight pause after those opening words “You say…” immediately conjure up images of plaid shirts worn baggily over tees, CDs priced at £12.99 and MTV’s ‘The Real World’ (not to mention the film in which the song featured, ‘Reality Bites’). Since then, Loeb has plugged away, releasing albums at a fairly steady rate. No Fairy Tale is her sixth studio record (not counting two collections of children’s songs) and it’s quick to address the elephant in the room – namely, Loeb’s present status as ‘I Love The Nineties’ compilation fodder. The second track, bluntly entitled ‘The 90s’, recalls a (presumably autobiographical) time when Loeb felt obliged to “cut my dress a little shorter / and get me ready for my video / one take, I’ll shake it up on MTV / all eyes on me”. Lest the that-was-then-and-this-is-now message not be sufficiently clear, the chorus then follows up with the declaration that “those were the ’90s / time flies so fast… / I don’t want to go back.”
In fairness, the music Loeb is making in 2013 is very different from the music she made in 1995. Anyone expecting twelve variations on limpid folk-rock may be pleasantly surprised to find that No Fairy Tale‘s billing as Loeb’s “poppy-punky-rock album” stands up pretty well. Accordingly, the album mostly substitutes electric riffs for acoustic strumming and the whole thing is buffed to a radio-ready shine. On the sleeve, Loeb resembles a libidinous Tina Fey, her windswept hairdo recalling the barnet sported by Liz Phair on her disastrous self-titled album from 2003. But in contrast to Phair’s (literally) naked attempt to nudge her songs onto mainstream playlists, it’s unlikely that anyone involved in the making of No Fairy Tale has particularly high commercial expectations. And with the stakes duly lowered, Loeb sounds like she’s having an absolute ball throughout.
Provided one goes into the experience with limited expectations, there’s plenty of uncomplicated fun to be had here. Only the most cynical listener would fail to derive any pleasure from the brisk hooks of ‘A Hot Minute’ and ‘The Worst’ (two tracks bearing surprise writing credits by Loeb fans Tegan & Sara), the Weezer-ish powerpop of the title track and the politely chugging ‘Married’. The album’s main flaw is its dated production: on the uptempo tracks, the listening space is engulfed with buzzy guitars that sound as if they’ve been ProTooled to within an inch of their lives. That said, No Fairy Tale is at its best when it is rocking out: whenever Loeb takes a breather, the cracks in the songwriting become more obvious. ‘Weak Day’, a mawkish ballad boasting lyrics such as “I’m not feeling well / I’m cracked like a bell”, is a contender for the most creatively bankrupt song of 2013 thus far.
Despite the involvement of Tegan & Sara, it’s unlikely that Loeb will enjoy a hipster-fuelled revival anytime soon. No Fairy Tale is a decent album that’s almost aggressively uncool, and for that it deserves our grudging respect.