“Omnipop (It’s Only a Flesh Wound Lambchop)”
* * 1/2
Though she’s hardly a household name, Sam Phillips--not to be confused with the guy who discovered Elvis--has demonstrated a knack for writing gracefully infectious melodies that rival those of any pop songwriter of her generation. Measured against this standard, Phillips’ new album is something of a disappointment. The singer’s delightfully fuzzy, dusky alto is still a joy to hear, as are the quirky, adventurous arrangements she crafts in conjunction with her husband-producer, noted musician and boardsman T-Bone Burnett (Elvis Costello, the Wallflowers, Gillian Welch). But without Phillips’ usual dazzling craftsmanship supporting it, all this artistry seems like icing on a dry, flavorless cake.
To be fair, there are a couple of tasty tidbits on “Omnipop.” While “Entertainmen” and “Power World” may not rank with Phillips’ best work, their combination of classic pop savvy and edgy sophistication is difficult to resist. Elsewhere, though, Phillips lets structure take a back seat to atmosphere. Tracks such as the snappy, horn-laced “Zero! Zero! Zero!” and the subtly haunting “Your Hands” are less songs than production showcases. As such, they’re vaguely intriguing; but coming from so gifted a tunesmith, they sound lazy and uninspired. Combining style with substance has seldom been a problem for Phillips in the past; hopefully, she’ll regain her balance the next time around.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).