Influential indie rock / pop from Liz Phair
In 1993, Liz Phair crashed into the music scene with her wonderful debut, “Exile in Guyville.” The album was met with near universal praise, has sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and was named by Rolling Stone Magazine the 96th best rock album of all time. Phair has said in interviews that the album was meant as a song-by-song reply to The Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street,” but also that the honest, gender-role explorations in the songs were a response to the cliquish Chicago indie music scene.
Musically, the album is a stripped down blend of indie rock and pop with catchy hooks. Lyrically, it is packed with brutally honest look at relationships and frank discussions of sexuality. Some few reviewers feel that the album is overrated and was only noticed because of the sexual content. They accuse her of pandering. The negative reviews are far in the minority, though, and I have to agree with the folks praising this album. The clean sound and honesty are refreshing and the songs are fantastic. It was a game changer for a lot of people.
You should definitely buy this entire album; all 18 tracks are great. But if you need some convincing, listen to these 6.
- 6’1” – Phair kicks off the album with a great, rollicking guitar riff and spirited vocals. It’s a solid opener.
- Never Said – She kicks it up a notch with this great pop hook. The guitar riff and percussion is regular as a metronome but the syncopated lead and backing vocals add a lot of texture.
- Soap Star Joe – On some of her albums, Phair has a tendency to get very commercial and overproduced. This is a stripped down song with just vocals and clean guitar. I like it when she lets the song speak for itself.
- Fuck and Run – Part of the genius of “Guyville” is the startling, naked honesty of the lyrics. This is the saddest song on the album.
- Divorce Song – This is my favorite song on this album. It’s only slightly less sad than ‘Fuck and Run,’ but it tells a great story and it takes some interesting twists and turns musically, finally ending on a rocking harmonica solo.
- Flower – There’s no other way to say it, this song is weird and dirty. I’m not sure what it says about me that I like it so much.
A lot of people, even some who loved “Exile in Guyville,” hate Liz Phair now. She has been very up front about the fact that she is in the music business to make money and has written several songs about it. She has moved in more mainstream directions – often at the urging of her record label – and lost more fans than many musicians have ever had. In a more recent interview, Phair said, “When I made “Guyville”—and I still love “Guyville”—it was a really fucked-up time in my life… I was pent-up, lost—and you can’t stay there!” So perhaps this was just a snapshot of an intensely emotional and creative time in her life and she won’t write music like this again. I still pick up Phair releases and always manage to find a few songs I like. This one, though, is wall to wall gold.