Pop Music for Grownups: Sam Phillips’ “Push Any Button”

Courtesy of Littlebox

Sam Phillips
Push Any Button
Littlebox Recordings

The namesake of the Sun Records visionary and ex-wife of superproducer T-Bone Burnett, Sam Phillips originally recorded Christian pop as Leslie Phillips. Since rebranding herself in the ’80s, she’s released a stunning series of secular (yet still spiritually inclined) albums, as well as writing music for the TV series Gilmore Girls and Bunheads, and (improbably) playing a terrorist in one of the noxious Die Hard films.

Push Any Button compares favorably with such standout ’90s Phillips albums as Omnipop (It’s Only an Flesh Wound Lambchop) and Martinis and Bikinis. Though her lyrics occasionally look heavenward—in “No Time Like Now” she observes, “What comes after living is bigger than we know”—there’s not a drop of treacle in her musings, thanks to twisty melodies and a tart, sardonic voice that recalls John Lennon’s later work.

Phillips delivers a memorable portrayal of a woman at odds with the real world, wandering in a maze of introspection as she scoffs at trend-setters (“Pretty Time Bomb”), dismisses a faithless lover (“When I’m Alone”) and embraces hope (“Can’t See Straight”) without qualification. Regardless of your affiliation (or absence of one), Push Any Button is thoughtful, tuneful and seriously addictive pop for grownups.