Band: Liz Phair
Album: Exile in Guyville
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: As "Jagged Little Pill" is overproduced and Canadian, Liz Phair's debut album is slightly underproduced and decidedly American. Her frank sexuality and lo fi guitar work set a template for many girl rockers to come. Without Liz Phair, so many artists don't exist.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Often, vulgarity is often a substitute for intelligence and that happens on "Exile."
Best song: "Fuck and Run" is great.
Worst song: Hmmm. I don't know. The album's closer, "Strange Loop," isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.
Let me get two things out of the way: Yes, the album is based on the Rolling Stone's "Exile on Main Street," though it doesn't follow the original's track listing perfectly.
The second thing is probably annoying to anyone who knows me, so I won't repeat it over and over. Elizabeth Clark Phair and I went to the same high school. She graduated fourteen years before I did. Other famous entertainers to graduate from New Trier Township High School (go Trevians!) include Rock Hudson, Rainn Wilson, two dudes from Fall Out Boy and Charlton Heston.
"Exile in Guyville" excites rock journalists for the same reason this story excites, well, just about every Jewish man in America. The idea of a good-looking chick with a potty mouth and a guitar excites the tons of nerdy dudes who've spent more time with "Zen Arcade" than with other human beings.
The forward sexuality on "Exile in Guyville" isn't so noteworthy now, but if you look at it in relation to "Jagged Little Pill" -- released three years later -- it is quite striking. The emotional range on "Exile" is just as large, from the touched sincerity of "Canary" to the platonic problems of "Help Me Mary" to the breakup anthem "6'1"." With that, though, Phair's sexual straightforwardness is the draw in the album. How many records have lyrics like this?
Hair's too long and in your eyes
Your lips a perfect "suck me" size
You act like you're fourteen years old
Everything you say is so obnoxious, funny, true and mean
I want to be your blowjob queen
Not many, at least coming from a woman.
For the uninitiated: Phair released a series of self-recorded (in Winnetka!) tapes called "Girlysound" that eventually made their way to Matador.
Something that also struck me about the record is the guitar sound, a Brad Wood trademark. The guitar on the album is incredibly distinctive, as though Phair directly plugged her Jazzmaster into the board and recorded it. The distorted guitar sounds equally as simple, as though the overmodulation is the sole thing that distinguishes it from the clean guitar.
It fits with Phair's deadpan, near-ironic vocal delivery. She sounds so disaffected, yet her lyrics are clearly passionate and sincere.
The song "Fuck and Run" is the pinnacle of the record, as it shows the hole of Phair's ability. The song's easy guitar is almost testimonial and the song's lyrics are both a little raunchy and a lot hurt. Phair's song of unhappiness towards her one night stand life doesn't have the anger of "Jagged Little Pill" but is equally unhappy and much more interesting:
And I can feel it in my bones
I'm gonna spend another year alone
It's fuck and run, fuck and run
Even when I was seventeen
And, of course, the narrative of her most recent one-nighter buttresses the chorus. The twinges of regret surrounds the song and perfectly.
"Exile in Guyville" is a Lil' Kim rock and roll record. It's forceful, smart and clever all at the same time. It's what smart girls listened to while idiots listened to "Jagged Little Pill." It is, in short, a classic.