October Project - Different EyesSoundtracks: Hollywood Records has unleashed soundtracks for Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life and the remake of Freaky Friday. The Tomb Raider soundtrack offers a mix of mundane rock from Filter, 3rd Strike and P.O.D. along with some heavy techno work from the Crystal Method and Moby. It also features a return of Sinead O'Connor, who adds vocals to a Conjure One track.

The Freaky Friday sountrack is a more solid collection, packed with crunchy teen-friendly, day-at-the-beach pop-rock sounds. It opens with a chirpy bubblegum rocker from Lindsay Lohan, then slips in a thin cover of the Turtles' "Happy Together" by Simple Plan and a solid girl-pop remake of the Romantics' "What I Like About You" from Lillix. More covers come later when Bowling for Soup takes a heavy-handed guitar approach to Britney Spears' "…Baby One More Time" and Joey Ramone puts a "sedated" pounding guitar rhythm to the classic "What a Wonderful World." American Hi-Fi doesn't do a cover song, but they do offer their Oasis-like "The Art of Losing,"and the Donnas crank up the amps for another three-chord, 2.5-minute anthem in "Backstage." Other artists include Andrew W.K., Ashlee Simpson, Christina Vidal, Halo Friendlies and more.


Liz Phair Liz Phair
Liz Phair

A lot has been made in the press about ex-Chicagoan Liz Phair's new disc released last month.

Her fourth self-titled disc finds Phair, once the poster child of female-powered alternative rock, starting over, and scoring an irresistable Top 40 single about the thrill of cheating in "Why Can't I?"

At the same time, she has incensed some fans by putting on the makeup, posing for the cheesecake magazine glamour shots and collaborating with pop radio hitmakers to craft the decidedly calculated but still convincing 14 songs on Liz Phair.

In all the critical moaning about Phair's "selling out," one crucial point seems to keep being overlooked: This is a great little pop rock record!

Because of her previous "cult" status, most probably have never heard of Phair's older material, and she's fine with that. She sings with the strength and wisdom of experience throughout on Liz Phair, celebrating her sometimes faked but effective seductive powers in "Bionic Eyes" and her pop culture anonymity in "Rock Me," where she extols the pleasure in dating a younger guy ("what's give or take nine years?"), and grins that "your record collection don't exist/you don't even know who Liz Phair is."

Like Nina Gordon (of Chicago's Veruca Salt), Phair has stepped out from making "important" genre-pushing rock to craft a disc of slick guitar riffs, tight vocal layering and, most importantly, a batch of singalong songs. Pure pop.

The disc opens with one of its strongest and most personal declarations in "Extraordinary." With a powerhouse guitar rev-up to back her up, she tells a prospective lover:

"I am extraordinary, if you'd ever get to know me
I am extraordinary
I am just your ordinary, average, everyday, sane
psycho super-goddess
You may not believe in me
but I believe in you."

While the pop sheen of these songs may have muted the racy themes of past discs, Phair's frank pen hasn't dried up.

"Why can't I breathe whenever I think about you/Why can't I speak whenever I talk about you," from "Why Can't I," may be a pretty standard love song lyric, but the gist of the song is about two people hooking up who are both otherwise involved.

In "Favorite," she compares a boyfriend to a pair of her old, worn "favorite underwear/it just feels right" and "It's Sweet" and "Rock Me" both speak of a cross-generational "cradle-robbing" relationship. Then there's the crunchy "Take a Look," a tongue-stuck-out strutting tease:

"there's nothing to see here
you wanna take a look?
Take a look … what's all the fuss about?
are you sure you want to find out?"

Even her tender side has a hint of risque life hiding behind it. In "Little Digger," she paints a heart-rending portrait of a child who has to come to grips with his mother being with a new man. It's a song every single parent can identify with as she sings:

"Dig. Little Digger.
Don't be shy.
You saw your mother with another guy.
You think you'll tell her that she's one of a kind.
You say, 'My mother is mine.'

Phair has always been known for her bold treatments of sexual themes, and she delivers again on the humorously over-the-top "H.W.C." an abbreviation I can't spell out in this column. Pete Yorn helps her out on this country-rock celebration of sex.

It all closes with the sing-song "Friend of Mine" and the celebratory, organic guitar build of "Good Love Never Dies."

Ten years after her critics' choice debut, Phair set out to make a radio-ready pop record that could top the peoples' choice charts. With the help of producers Michael Penn and The Matrix (who helped Avril Lavigne), she ably succeeded. This is one of my favorite driving discs of the summer.

Phair returns home to celebrate the release of her new album with a three-night stand at Chicago's Metro Aug. 21-23.