Lisa Loeb returns with her first project aimed at an adult audience since 2004′s The Way It Really Is. But she doesn’t settle back into the absorbing, modestly constructed singer-songwriter craft of that project — or the sing-songy, impossibly sunny vibe (sample title: “The Disappointing Pancake”) of her subsequent kiddie pop albums, either.
Instead, she’s added Chad Gilbert as a key collaborator. Yes, that Chad Gilbert — from the turn-of-the-2000s punk-informed pop band New Found Glory. He co-produced No Fairy Tale (due February 5, 2013 from 429 Records), co-wrote two songs and also played guitar and sometimes bass throughout.
His impact is felt from front to back. Loeb’s title track, and opening cut, has a coiled aggression — and a no-bullshit view of romance to boot. Even “The ’90s,” which you might have expected to tumble into comfy nostalgia, has a smart, aggressive groove. “A Hot Minute,” the first of two songs composed by twin-sister Canadian indie-popsters Tegan and Sara, moves along so quickly that the lyrics end up simply tumbling across Loeb’s lips, like a breathless tone poem. Meanwhile, “Matches” is dominated by this soaring, all-but-undeliable arena-rock riff.
Not that there are a few well-placed introspective pauses, as with the trundling, cautionary tale “Weak Day” or the country-tinged kiss off “Sick, Sick, Sick,” or the twilit poignancy of “Ami, I’m Sorry.” Throughout, though, we find Loeb taking this tougher, more hard-eyed view of things — a world, or more, away from her 1994 indie smash “Stay (I Missed You).” She then closes with a perfectly contained Simon and Garfunkel-ish folk number called “The Worst,” also from Tegan and Sara and (as with “A Hot Minute”) featuring Tegan Quin on harmony vocals.
Tracks like “Swept Away” and “He Loved You So Much” meld the project’s two principal impulses, sounding both hard and soft — and they are fizzy, album-defining triumphs. The first boasts a sweetly conveyed vocal about dreams not yet fulfilled, and the second features a sad now-that-my-man’s-gone rumination — but both are coupled with these snarling guitar lines from Gilbert.
Flinty instead of flirty, No Fairy Tale — you quickly realize — is well titled. This is the most varied, the most involving — and, yeah, certainly the loudest — album of Loeb’s celebrated career.