After a nearly four-year absence, Liz Phair returns with a new album. Much has been made of the long interim and what took place in her life during that timemarriage, motherhood, and the Lilith Fairincluding speculation about Phair's continued relevance in light of those events. Which is, of course, ridiculous. Though Phair's sexual frankness on her first two albums, 1993's Exile In Guyville and its equally good but strangely maligned follow-up Whip Smart, was surely part of what caught people's ear, there's no logical reason to think domesticity would somehow spoil her. If you want to hear women talk dirty, there are plenty of 900 numbers and Internet chat rooms for that; Phair's ability to couple her unique voice with beautifully crafted pop songs was what really made those albums work. While it's a shame it took so long for whitechocolatespaceegg to arrive (and it's too bad that it's saddled with the most cumbersome title since Zingalamaduni), it's a pretty terrific album, if not quite up to the standard set by its predecessors. The flaws come down to a small handful of weak tracks. "Baby Got Going," which pairs a train-themed lyric with a choo-choo tune, comes off as too cute by far, while "Uncle Alvarez" is the sort of chiding story-song that wouldn't make it onto The Indigo Girls' weaker efforts. As for the rest, it may not represent a great leap forward in terms of Phair's artistryunless slicker production counts as developmentbut it's still impressive material. "Polyester Bride," for instance, is a great pop song, plain and simple, while "Johnny Feelgood" is an example of how the singer/songwriter can butter up a dark subject, in this case an ambiguously abusive relationship, with a sing-along melody. "Go On Ahead" and "Headache" both nicely capture the strangely pretty world-weariness that has become Phair's trademark, and if a line like, "This one is going to last and all those other bastards were only practice" (from "What Makes You Happy") is what she sounds like when she gets sentimental, it's still miles away from the work of Rolling Stone cover girl Shania Twain. With any luck, it won't take another four years for Phair to produce a new album; here's hoping that when she does, it's as good as this one.