March 18, 2002 12:00 PM

Lisa Loeb (A&M)

Lisa Loeb could make a Courtney Love song sound like a nursery rhyme. But don’t let the tea-party voice fool you: On only her third album in a hide-and-seek career already in its second decade, the cutest bookworm in school seems unsure whether she wants to be adored or pitied.

Loeb, 34, is trying on an earthier wardrobe that belies this disc’s precious title, and it doesn’t always become her. At times electric-blues guitar licks from her boyfriend Dweezil Zappa step all over her breezy acoustic strumming, and she takes a misguided stab at the weary wisdom of Aimee Mann. When Loeb sings, “I am the underdog/1 am the last in line,” she is as convincing as Meg Ryan playing a bag lady.

Nothing here will challenge the success of 1994’s “Stay (I Missed You),” Loeb’s rookie smash, though she remains a charmer on winsome tracks like “Someone You Should Know” and “We Could Still Belong Together.” Being a goody-goody may be thankless, but Meg Ryan ain’t starving.

Bottom Line: Lick off the frosting, throw out the crust

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