Two critically acclaimed children’s albums aside, No Fairy Tale is Lisa’s first album since 2004’s The Way It Really Is. Having waited so long to record a new album, you’d think she would have went into the studio armed with an acoustic guitar and an arsenal of songs in the vein of her gold albums Tails (1995) and Firecracker (1997). But then you would be mistaken. Instead of trying to re-capture the vibe of her previous albums, Lisa entered the studio with New Found Glory’s Chad Gilbert — and his guitar — and the two co-produced the album together with the assistance of engineer Brad Wood (Liz Phair, Smashing Pumpkins).
The album opens with the inspired title track and it’s obvious that Lisa is gunning for a fresh start by the time it’s over. “It’s no fairy tale, there’s no breadcrumb trail to lead you back but it’s just as well,” she sings during the super infectious chorus, which is sure to stay stuck in your head for days. And her voice has never sounded better.
“Those were the ’90’s, I don’t want to go back,” she sings during the rollicking second track, “The 90’s.” The song has a fresh sound, mixing Chad Gilbert’s punk sensibilities with Lisa’s idiosyncratic if not downright poetic lyrics and guitar licks. It finds her bursting with energy, lively as ever.
Written by Tegan and Sara, “One Hot Minute” is one of the catchiest songs Lisa has ever released. “It’s a hot minute that’ll last a lifetime,” she sings. “I’m not asking for forever, I’m just asking for tonight.” Later, she repeatedly sings, “I want my love to last a lifetime,” something of a contradiction. Lisa’s inflections on that line make you wonder what it means. If nothing else, the lyrics paint a picture of a complicated woman pulled in two different directions. It’s the sort of songwriting Tegan and Sara are famous for and Lisa sells it perfectly.
During “Married,” written by Loeb and Chick Wolverton, Lisa goes into intervention mode and attempts to deliver a wake up call to a friend who’s involved with a married man. “He’s married, he’s married, you don’t know what you’re doing,” Lisa sings, belting out the chorus and delivering one hell of a hook. The riffs call to mind The Cars, while the offbeat lyrics are more Juliana Hatfield. “You discuss your favorite movies, he’s never seen The Newsies, but you both love anything Stephen King,” she sings in full alterna-girl mode. The song feels vibrant and current, but it also reaches out to Lisa’s fans from the ’90’s, inviting them along for the irresistible ride.
Lisa does jump back into her famous acoustic mode for the last couple of songs. First there’s the tearful ballad “Ami, I’m Sorry,” an emotive song that could easily be a huge hit in the hands of Taylor Swift. Then there’s “The Worst,” another song penned by Tegan and Sara, which suits Lisa perfectly. “I’ve been breaking my heart for the past ten years and it looks good and it feels good,” she sings. You can almost hear the collective swoon of fans obsessed with her early work. “Don’t worry, the worst is always there to comfort you,” she sings as the song ends, apparently reassuring herself as much as anyone else. And maybe that’s the album’s underlying theme, that it’s OK to be yourself. For Lisa, that seems to mean trying out new things — being a true artist — and breaking away from the mold that record labels and audiences once had her trapped in.
Lisa recently performed “No Fairy Tale” on Leno, as you can see here: