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Liz Phair's Finest Moment [Jun. 23rd, 2006|02:32 pm]
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Back 'in the day' Liz Phair came out with the CD "Exile In Guyville" which all right-thinking indie-heads (like myself) snapped up immediately, just ahead of the inevitable backlash. No less than Steve Albini dissed her, and once Albini disses you, you've arrived.

As it turns out -- to my mind anyway -- the backlash was mostly deserved. The qualities of 'Guyville' that made it appealing -- her deadpan voice, the low-fi, yet effective production -- weren't ultimately going to make up for the lack of real depth in her songwriting. Her subsequent work has been pretty tepid, and here dependency on 'collaborators' like Dan Penn and the Matrix makes you suspect that "Guyville" may have owed it's appeal more to the work of her producer than to anything she did. Even though she started out on Matador, back when Matador was still a reall indie label, the label and her publicist even then were marketing her as a cute girl who talks dirty. From that beginning, then, to the unabashed marketing of her MILF-appeal on the cover of her 2003 self-titled album, Phair was always an image-driven product. Even her bohemian indie-ness may have been a manufactured thing -- even as articles stated she sold her drawings on the street for money in her early days, they were burying the fact that she came from a very affluent family.

It's too bad, too, because if my narrative above has any truth to it, then Phair played into the worst anti-feminist cliche' about women artists, that they're nothing without a man to manage and package them.

But that one song, "Stratford On Guy" still blows me away. I wasn't able to find an MP3 on line (except this cover by Self), so you'll have to find it yourself on iTunes or whatever. The combination of the lyrics' cool specificity in describing a moment on a landing plane, and the chord progression's turns and twists made it a very nearly perfect Pop/Art song. She gets extra indie points for the line "And I was pretending that I was in a Galaxie 500 video."

The most fascinating thing about looking around for stuff on this song is the contrast between the 'Girlysound' version (Phair's self released cassettes), which has a much less focused lyric, which ends on this disturbing note:

And I said, look, look to you left passengers
Look, look to your right
You can pretend that the plane's gonna crash in five minutes
And this, this is your very last sight
You better look, look to your left passengers
Look, look to your right
Cause I'm gonna take this plane out in less than five minutes
And this, this is your very last sight

Imagine a time -- 1993 -- when you could write a song in first person about blowing up an airplane. It's obvious in the way that Phair (or one of her Svengalis) pruned back and refined the lyrics between Girlysound and Guyville, losing the terrorist angle in the process.

But despite the disappointment Phair has been in the last 13 years, I have to give her "Stratford-On-Guy" as her one perfectly formed song. It's one more than most of humanity has managed.

[User Picture]From: drthundr
2006-06-24 03:28 pm (UTC)
Have you gripped the first generation girlysounds yet?


Awesome quality.
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[User Picture]From: clobby
2006-06-25 05:01 am (UTC)
Her songwriting on "Exile" and "Whipsmart" are, and have always been my number one draw to her music -- next to the fact that I would hit it till my dick was blue.

She definitely fell apart, but I would not say that she wasn't on to something back then.
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[User Picture]From: marmoset
2006-06-25 08:19 pm (UTC)

No less than Steve Albini dissed her, and once Albini disses you, you've arrived.

Heh... one of the more interesting things in the Pixies book I've just about finished reading is the chapter on the making of Surfer Rosa and the subsequent asspounding Albini handed them in MRR et. al. Boy was apparently working through some notable personality issues (i.e. being a real dick)

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[User Picture]From: chaircrusher
2006-06-25 09:22 pm (UTC)
I friends who a) have recorded with Albini and people who b) know the people in the Pixies, and I'd say they both can be nice people or complete cunts. People who are good artists aren't necessarily nice people, and often they're not. And most, like you and I are some admixture of niceness and cuntiness, and have good and bad days.
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[User Picture]From: marmoset
2006-06-25 09:58 pm (UTC)
Interestingly, later in the chapter Albini states that, though the Pixies weren't his favorite band, he was out of line slagging them in the press afterwards.
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