Todays music is a couple of tracks off of Liz Phair’s “Exile in Guyville”. I’m loathe to snap off a couple of tracks, because I’ve been listening to it as an album, but I think these are a good place to start:
I few months ago, I decided to look up this “Liz Phair” who I had heard so much about. I had imagined she was some sort of new folk singer, like some sort of Jewel protege. God knows where I got that idea.
So, I downloaded “Why can’t I breathe?” the poppy single off of her latest album, and thought it sucked. “Oh, she’s just some vaguely edgy pop artist,” I thought. Whatever.
Turns out this is not correct at all. I have had her 1993 Exile in Guyville on repeat for a couple of days now, and 1993 Liz Phair is nothing like 2003 Liz Phair.
Three things I wish someone had told me about Liz Phair:
- Exit in Guyville was written pretty much in isolation, and she was pretty much an amateur at the time.
- Exit in Guyville is a song by song response to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street. Every track is either a female analog of what the Stones are talking about, or a rebuttal from a female perspective.
- Exit in Guyville is profoundly feminist, and its overt sexuality is a component of that, but it’s not the core of it’s feminism.
So, that said, I would highly recommend this interview and the album itself to anyone who hasn’t heard it, or has previously written Liz Phair off as a slut or a sellout. There’s much more to this album than that.
So, on to the album itself. It’s pretty clear that she didn’t have the highly refined musical skills to put together a flawless track. That said, it’s also fairly clear to me that she was more than good enough to get across what she was trying to express. So you get the reality of her life without the layers of subtlety and commentary that musical virtuosity lets you impart. In other words, and I know all of this is sounding like a put down, but I don’t think she had the ability to write a self-referentially editorial album. No layers of meaning that people tend to think make something “high” art. And what she accomplished as a result is much closer to pure art than anyone really expected. And that’s why I think it’s a remarkable album.
And as I understand it, this album is landmark feminist work because it’s about standing up in the male-dominated world of rock music and saying, “OK, it’s time to listen to what I, as a woman, have to say about all this bullshit you boys are slinging around.” And boy, do we sling bullshit.
Looking back over what I just wrote though, I wonder if this is a chauvinist depiction of the album. I’d certainly welcome outside comments on the issue.
EDIT: I wanted to add that I think the primary reason why some of these songs sound so amateur is that her drummer sucks really, really hard. He sounds like a $50 Yamaha keyboard demo, except with less rhythm.