Lisa Loeb

Lisa Loeb

Cake And Pie

A&M

Okay, I confess. Yes, I now own all three Lisa Loeb albums. There, I admitted it. For those who may think that doesn’t sound too macho, I have carefully filed her albums somewhere between “Iron Maiden” and “Marilyn Manson.”

Over the course of her three albums, the chick with the cat’s eye glasses has had a tough time scaling the heights of her first hit “Stay (I Missed You).” But it was a tough act to follow. The single from the soundtrack to 1994’s Reality Bites went to number one on the U.S. charts, the first time an unsigned artist had accomplished that feat. And if her debut album Tails, which followed the next year, was a bit of a disappointment, it showed that Loeb had a knack for the pop hook on tracks like “Waiting For Wednesday.” Her 1997 follow up, Firecracker confirmed that talent, producing the minor hit “I Do.” Since then, Loeb has spent much of her time launching a second career as an actress, both on TV and the big screen.

Her return to the music world shows Loeb further honing her songwriting skills and putting more of her personality on display in every song. Hitmeister Glen Ballard produced the opening track, “The Way It Really Is,” with bombastic drums and guitars that kick in for the choruses, but it’s Loeb’s conversational lyrics that make the song. “Sometimes even I have no idea what I mean/I wish I did,” she sings. “I’m crazy/Why do I keep doing this/Everything is fine/Then you think I’m crazy/I do this all the time.

Loeb inserts unusual non-sequiturs and charming touches of character into her lyrics. She seems to get inside the mind of a high school girl on “Underdog”: “I like things that are so good/You are so so good/I like you/But I am the underdog/I am the last in line.” It’s a lyric that not many other artists could get away with without sounding prosaic. Her words sound like breathless diary confessions on the somewhat overlong “Payback”: “In bed with a low grade fever/They wanted to know how could I leave you/I can’t tell them that/It might sound like revenge.” The formula becomes a bit too precious, though, on the acoustic-based “Kick Start.” It somehow reminds me of Edie Brickell’s awful ’80s airhead anthem “What I Am.”

Elsewhere, Loeb sings about finding contentment within on the record’s first single, “Someone You Should Know,” which sports a very “Stay”-like acoustic intro married to an infectious Bangles-like chorus.

Loeb’s boyfriend Dweezil Zappa plays guitar on much of the record, and his efforts are hit and miss. His solo on “Everyday,” combined with Loeb’s multi-tracked vocals, almost rescues an otherwise weak song. But his guitar histrionics on “Drops Me Down” are almost painful, marring a number that allows Loeb to display an airy soprano up in the Kate Bush stratosphere. And Dweezil does nothing but draw attention to himself on “You Don’t Know Me,” aping Eddie Van Halen for no apparent reason on a song about a young girl’s first boyfriend.

The record’s most upbeat and best track is “We Could Still Belong Together,” which was originally featured on the Legally Blonde soundtrack last year. Besides being undeniably catchy, the song allows Loeb to demonstrate a cute sense of humor: “We could still belong together/And together’s so much better/We’re okay so hey don’t worry now/Oh wow/But if you make a mistake, we’re through.”

But it’s the last two songs on Cake And Pie that put it in the win column and that show the breadth of Loeb’s talent. The immediate sounding “Too Fast Driving” is all roaring guitars, electric piano, and layered vocals, with a cool staccato break. She follows that with a minor key acoustic tune about a young woman’s eating disorder called “She’s Falling Apart,” proving that she can handle the bubble gum power pop and the smart, introspective folky stuff with equal aplomb.

Yes, I own the entire Loeb catalogue, and Cake And Pie is a worthy addition. Perhaps I should no longer be afraid to display them more prominently in my record collection. Now I’m going to crank up some Maiden, dude.

A&M Records: http://www.amrecords.com • Lisa Loeb: http://www.lisaloeb.com

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