Liz Phair made a dramatic debut in '93 with the bare-bones double album "Exile In Guyville." It was a frontal and notably foul-mouthed (Phair threw around the F-word like a guy) attack on the male dominated Alt. Rock scene. Patterned after the Rolling Stones' "Exile On Main Street" (both sonically and as a lyrical touchstone) it covered the same ground but from a female perspective.
Born in Connecticut, Phair relocated to Chicago where she made the rounds. Her "Girlysounds" demo tapes caught on. How could they not? Sexually explicit and rebellious (now there's a combination) Phair was the latest in a long line of infamous women. Pop, Rock, Country, Blues and so on, have always had a place for "bad girls." But Phair's take was beyond just being a temptress. She used her lyrical approach to challenge as well as titillate. In many ways she mirrored Madonna's "Truth Or Dare" phase a few years earlier. Phair was all about the politics of sex. The songs "Explain It To Me," "F*** And Run" and "Divorce Song" in particular gave "Guyville" an edge. Originally an indie release (later picked up by Capitol) "Exile In Guyville" sold 200,000 copies. A good start.
The more Rock oriented "Whip Smart" hit in '96 and was followed two years later by the confessional "whitechocolatespaceegg." After "Whip Smart" Phair got married and had a son. But just a couple years later she was a single mom and that pretty much kept her occupied until '03 when she released another sexual/life/love adventure "Liz Phair."
Actors regularly get type-cast. They play a particular role so well that the public has difficulty seeing them as any other character. The harsh downside is the audience quickly loses interest and the actor rolls into oblivion or worse; making appearances at county fairs, grocery store openings and fan conventions. Musicians face type-casting too but to a lesser degree. Still, musicians are often just not accepted when they try something new. Following an "experimental" failure they regularly return to their core sound/style only to find the public has moved on. It's a cruel world.
Phair's "Somebody's Miracle" escaped that fate. Following "Guyville" and "Whip Smart" Phair gained a deserved reputation for being aggressive and explicit. But her '05 release brought a different, more positive tone. Of course, she Rocked her way through it and, lyrical stances aside, isn't that what really counts?
1993 Exile In Guyville
2003 Liz Phair
2005 Somebody's Miracle
"Exile In Guyville" is one provocative album. Phair's brutally honest lyrics are well framed in the sparse arrangements. On "Girls! Girls! Girls!" Phair's vocals are only accompanied by a Rockabilly type guitar. The stark combination provides a unique sense of intimacy. Unfortunately, the album finds a comfortable mid-tempo and pretty much stays there. While the acoustic elements on "Guyville" return throughout Phair's career they move into the background on subsequent recordings. "Whip Smart" pulls most of "Guyville's" loose ends together and Rocks harder. The songs are still potent but more focused. "Supernova" is a catchy, hook filled Rocker that drew a lot of attention. "Cinco De Mayo" pretty much supplies the Sheryl Crow template.
"whitechocolatespaceegg" is less confrontational and more introspective but not without some humor. "Johnny Feelgood," "What Makes You Happy" and the gossipy "Girls Room" are the highlights. "Liz Phair" keeps the sex "coming" with far less guilt or exclusion. She also has a keen eye on developing her audience. "Extraordinary" has the same power and feeling as "Supernova" while the escapist "Rock Me" and "Why Can't I" are pop oriented. But true to form, Phair whips up "H.W.C.," a mid-tempo tune that belies the brazen sexual content.
Phair is upbeat, direct and economical on "Somebody's Miracle." A lot can be made of the more positive lyrical tone but what makes this album a success is the energy and drive she provides. "Stars And Planets" is a charming, throbbing Rocker. It's followed by a series to catchy tunes; "Got My Own Thing," "Lazy Dreamer," "Everything To Me" and "Why Lie." Even the ballads, including the title track, have some teeth to them. The album ends strong with the hard charging "Giving It All To You."
Still, the lyrics do represent a change. "We all shine" (from "Stars And Planets"), "do you really know me at all, catch me when I fall" (on "Everything To Me") and "love you as you are, near and not to far" (from "Closer To You") show a willingness to trust and believe.