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November 02, 2003

Phair Weather Fans (pt. 1)

It was only a few months ago that I didn't know much about Liz Phair. I lowered my head and blushed with embarrassment when Erica asked me if I knew her and I, with my usual tact and good timing, unsteadily replied "I think I've heard of ... them." Oh God. I am so lame.

In fact, I *had* heard of "them" or rather her, able to later identify the song running through my head at the time as "Supernova". It was Liz Phair, wasn't it, who I had seen on VH1 only days before as I tried to rouse myself for work? Blonde woman? Guitar? Was that right?

Yeah, it was. Sitting in my friends car later I heard the uber-catchy "Why Can't I?" and asked who we were listening to. Liz. Such a coincidence! My interest was totally piqued. I figured it wouldn't hurt to find a little more of her music and educate myself, right?

Since then I have listened to as much Liz Phair as I can get my hands on, amazed that I had missed out on her for so long. All her albums, live recordings, anything really. I love to sing along with her low, gravely voice and rock out to her in my car.

I read Ms. D's thought provoking Letter to Liz before I had heard all of her albums. It wasn't until later that I understood where Erica was coming from with it. Since then I've heard far harsher statements regarding Liz's "sell out" stature. It seems that some fans have turned on the woman because she wears a mini-skirt on the Tonight Show and is spending more money on record production. And while I agree that some things have certainly changed, I think there might be another way to look at it.

Sure, the lyrics on her new album are distinctly more pop, and her new single in nauseatingly over-produced. Sure, the same people who spawned that Avril monster were collaborators on her latest release. However, the album is hardly a total loss. The tone of her writing is different than it has been before, even schoolgirly and idealistic when she sings about love, etc. But not all tracks have the same heightened production as the big single, and like all her previous records, there are some absolute gems. "It's poppy, but it's still Liz."
Also, she's 36 now, divorced, and still supporting a child. My friend pointed out to me that she can't be a strictly indie hit forever, not if she wants to make any money. She needs to move some records, sell out some tour dates, and keep herself in the running if she wants any kind of longevity. Is it fair for us to criticize her image-shift? Wouldn't we do the same? Does it really come at the expense of all her artistic integrity? Maybe it does, but maybe not.

I'm all for watching an artist play with their style, change things around. Sometimes they lose me, but sometimes I like where they end up. I'm willing to stick around and see where Liz ends up, too. I was a little startled by her performance on Ellen Degeneres' talk show. She didn't sound comfortable with her own song. Would that hold true for the whole new album?

Thoughts on her concert in Pt. 2

Posted by kati at November 2, 2003 06:34 PM


I too heard Liz Phair a whole lot recently, and not really much at all before. I got "Exile in Guyville" and thought it was fantastic. I guess she made that one before she'd played many (any?) live gigs. Even though she can't really sing, that seemed kind of irrelevant to how good the music was. The songs are catchy, interesting, and pretty powerful.

As for the new stuff, I've heard a little and I don't care for it. Or about it. It sounds a lot like a lot of other stuff that's on the radio. She still sings about blowjobs sometimes, which sets it apart.

I don't think it's fair to say she "sold out". She's not as good as she used to be, but a lot of artists never equal their first albums. Maybe you lose perspective when you become a famous indie rock critical darling. Maybe Liz Phair is out of ideas, so she called up some song writers/producers du jour to help her out. I don't think she necessarily betrayed her fans or even made decisions based on divorce, motherhood, cash, etc. I just don't have any interest in listening to any more of her new material.

Posted by: sean at November 2, 2003 07:22 PM

I also think someone like Liz may be easy to grow out of. I just can't quite identify with "Fuck and Run" like I once could.

Posted by: robyn at November 2, 2003 11:57 PM

I do think it's interesting though, that the Liz Phair fans I know are all such different ages, sizes, personality types. It makes me wonder what the common denominator is.

Posted by: kati at November 3, 2003 02:07 PM

gender. (sorry, sean.)

Posted by: didofoot at November 3, 2003 03:17 PM

not true! At Deep Springs there was a cult around her EP(whose name I don't recall). Of course, it was an all-male college in the desert. Never mind.

I have to agree with Sean about the new album, with the exception of songs like "HWC" which harken back to the Liz of yesteryear.

Posted by: DV at November 5, 2003 08:52 AM

sean, you are free to have your opinions, but i must point out that 'exile in guyville' is not her debut album, and she had plenty of albums before and after that were not sell-out-y.

also, maybe i don't understand how much money indie rockers with liz's status make, but i don't think someone really *needs* the kind of money you make from big time pop hits. so fine, she wants to be rolling in the money... it doesn't mean she's not a sell-out, and it doesn't mean i have to be ok with it.

but whatever, i'm not really hurt. (sniff)

Posted by: erica at November 5, 2003 08:12 PM

Perhaps her earlier stuff was good/better, but Liz Phair has never really been on my radar and I have seen that "Why Can't I" video on VH1 like a zillion times now, and it's just generic and annoying enough to keep her off the radar until further notice... Although I do respect her for being brave enough to not only sing about, but to actually title a song "Hot White Cum". Damn girl!


Posted by: Kristina at November 6, 2003 08:31 AM

The All Music Guide says "Growing out of the American underground of the late '80s, Liz Phair fused lo-fi indie rock production techniques and styles with the sensibility and structure of classic singer/songwriters. Exile in Guyville, Phair's debut album, was enthusiastically praised upon its 1993 release and it spawned a rash of imitators, particularly American female singer/songwriters, over the following years."

Maybe I'm missing something though - does she have EPs, or maybe super-indie records that pre-date 1993?

I also like "Whip-Smart", though not nearly as much as "Guyville". The "new stuff" in my earlier comment is referring only to the brand-new album, "Liz Phair", not what came before.

Posted by: sean at November 6, 2003 11:45 AM

there is actually an album that comes before guyville, though i can't remember it's name right now. you're right, it's like, double indie, and probably wasn't released on a label even approximating major. plus, there's "whitechocolatespaceegg" which was her most recent before the brand-new one. it is more refined and mature, but it still had the feel of the liz i knew and loved. so she was able to make at least 2 more quality albums after her initial break onto the indie scene. that's my only point, that it's not like she ran out of material after guyville... this was a very conscious effort to splatter herself all over the top 20 charts. i mean, who self-titles their 4th (kinda 5th) album, except for someone who is trying to disassociate herself with previous work?

also, she smells bad now.

Posted by: erica at November 6, 2003 12:20 PM

She had something in the early 90's called "The Girlysound Tapes" which were, I believe, essentially demos that got around a bit before she had a record deal. Some of the songs on them were re-done on studio albums.

Yeah, the fact that she self-titled her newest album is kinda odd, and definetly suggests a conscious image shift. I've just been trying to understand the why and wherefore of that shift.

I don't think she smells bad.

Posted by: kati at November 6, 2003 07:49 PM

have you gotten up close and personal? did you sniff that space right behind the ears? what is that smell anyway? all i know is that it ain't good. but at the same time an incredibly sexy spot for kisses. weird, that. maybe that smell is pheromones. maybe sexy spots have the highest concentration of them. damn you and your phairomones, liz phair!

Posted by: michele at November 6, 2003 10:27 PM

Well, no, I didn't sniff the ultra-sexy spot behind her ear. I did get close though. I'd post the picture if i could figure out how I did it before...

Posted by: kati at November 7, 2003 01:38 AM

I totally eat my words about outgrowing "Fuck and Run". Ever since I wrote that, it's the only thing I've wanted to hear.

Posted by: robyn at November 8, 2003 12:07 PM

Erica: who self-titles their 4th or 5th album?

Weezer. And the Beatles, although the white album was more like their 9th or 10th album I think. I just enjoy throwing monkey wrenches into people's minor points. Thank you, and goodnight.

Posted by: dianna at November 8, 2003 12:38 PM

dianna: who smells bad?

liz phair and dianna. you little monkey, you!

Posted by: erica at November 8, 2003 06:15 PM


Posted by: dianna at November 8, 2003 09:20 PM

Just saw Liz's show 3/17/04 in St. Louis at the Pageant. Have to say that I got into her first record and appreciated her for her intelligence, confidence, "balls", and sense of humor. Not to mention the "homemade" feel of that recording. I can only get turned on by women who have that same sexual confidence and intelligent attitude. I also have Whip Smart and enjoy most of her later music even the "sell out" stuff like "Why Can't I" since I feel her commercial/monetary success is way overdue and she makes Brittany et al look like the rank amateurs they are... But, damn, I was just twenty feet from her and despite all that good shit about intelligence and attitude above... all I wanted to do was offer oral services to her any time and place. She was so sexually exciting that not only were the guys (like me) getting stupid but a whole gaggle of lesbian chicks were about slipping over each other in lust. Which brings me to my conclusion/conumdrum... am I really a fan of her music like I am Wilco/Shins,Kings of Leon, Jets, Chrissie Hynde, Joni, Eels, Aimee Mann, Michael Penn, etc. or am I just a prisoner of my heterosexual genes? I am hoping it is both. Bryant

Posted by: Bmer at March 16, 2004 11:05 PM