Liz Phair's deeply clever and often brutally candid songs have been commanding ears and raising eyebrows ever since she started writing them, and her new self-titled fourth album is perhaps the strongest link yet in an incomparable musical chain.
After her homeade "Girlysound" tapes quickly made the rounds among Chicago's indie tastemakers in the early '90s, she followed up with what is considered one of the most accomplished debut albums for any artist in any genre, 1993's "Exile in Guyville." Ambitiously patterned after the Roling Stones' "Exile on Main Street," the album contained raw, unblinking songs like "F--- and Run," sharply provocative lyrics claiming her as "your bl--job queen," and sold over 200,000 copies -- a major feat for a small independent release.
Following Guyville, Phair released two other highly-acclaimed albums, 1994's gold-certified "Whip Smart" (featuring modern rock radio hit "Supernova"), and 1998's deeply confessional "whitechocolatespaceegg." She also toured with the Lilith Fair, got married, gave birth to a son, and got divorced.
Released almost exactly ten years after Guyville made waves, "Liz Phair" is a testament to her continuing maturity as a composer and performer, but also harkens back to some of her most fearless songwriting about carnal knowledge (and ignorance). Alongside point-blank songs about love, loss and longing, the album contains a song called "H.W.C.," (an acronym for "hot white c--." as the chorus "Give me your hot white c--" makes abundantly clear).
But while Guyville featured endearingly shambling indie rock recorded in stripped-down fashion, "Liz Phair" rocks with a newfound authority and a startlingly BIG sound. Produced variously by the Matrix, Michael Penn, R. Walt Vincent, and Phair herself, "Liz Phair" puts forth a sonic intensity that only adds to the album's many facets.
Her name alone as the album's title suggests Phair at her most naked and direct. And her powerful brand of first-person narratives -- variously naughty, wistful, pointed, sexual, and humorous, often at the same time -- are very much in evidence.
While album opener "Extraordinary" has Phair "licking her lips" for a "primitive fix," the chorus -- "I am just your ordinary, average, everyday, sane/psycho super-goddess" knowlingly tweaks her own sultry image, later taunting "I still take out the trash, is that too normal for you?"
Indeed, Phair gleefully toys with her self-image and her public image throughout. "Take A Look" makes direct self-reference to her incontestable starpower -- "You wanna take a look? Take a look!" she demands. But in "Rock Me" she describes an affair with a nine-years-younger, penniless, X-Box playing, roommate-having young guy who doesn't "even know who Liz Phair is."
As always, Phair never shies away from chronicling relationships at their most complicated. "Why Can't I" explores the forbidden thrill of infidelity ("Holding hands with you when we're out at night/got a girlfriend, but you say it isn't right/and I've got someone waiting, too"), and is peppered with her uniquely salacious wordplay ("We're already wet and we're gonna go swimming," "We're at the beginning/We haven't f---ed yet but my head's spinning").
"Little Digger" unflichingly portrays a child seeing his mother with a man other than his father, while "Good Love Never Dies," "Friend of Mine," and "Firewalker" detail the myriad tensions of failed relationships. It may all be brimming with attitude, but this is pop music at its most honest.
Musically, "Liz Phair" is her most confident and varied effort to date: there's a virtual smorgasbord of indelible hooks but they're couched in everything from turned-to-eleven crunch chords to swirling pyschedlia to garage stomp to ephemeral synths to bare naked acoustics.
The mix is further diversified by contributions from guests like Dr. Dre. bassist (and co-writer/producer of 50 Cent's smash "In Da Club") Mike Elizondo, session drummer Matt Chamberlain, Prince and the Revolution/Wendy and Lisa bassist Wendy Melvoin, and Pete Yorn (who adds drums and guitar to "H.W.C.").
Liz Phair is the latest chapter in one of rock's most indelible autobiographies, almost always going straight for the heart (and the loins) but just as often hitting squarely in the gut. And without apology.
--- from the official Liz Phair website