In 1993, Matador Records released Exile in Guyville, the first effort from then unknown Chicagoan Liz Phair. Produced by studio master Brad Wood, the album, a supposed song-by-song response to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, took the college radio world by storm.
Guyville became one of the seminal (or perhaps ovular) albums of the 1990s. In the predominantly male indie rock world, Phair’s unabashedly honest and wholly female lyrics shook up the music industry.
In 1994, Phair released Whip Smart, considered by many to be a sophomore slump. Her reluctance to tour to promote the album resulted in disappointing record sales. After which, with the exception of several appearances on movie soundtracks, Phair all but disappeared from the world of rock and roll. She married, moved to the suburbs and had a son.
Enter whitechocolatespaceegg, her much anticipated latest release. Rumors have circulated that Matador was unimpressed with the album’s initial effort and asked Phair to go back to the studio. She worked with Wood again, as well as with producer Scott Litt.
The Liz Phair of whitecholocate-spaceegg is a somewhat different woman from the Liz Phair of Guyville, and rightly so. All too often, rock stars attempt to stay 20 years old for their entire careers, attempting to keep up with the omnipresent teen market while also appealing to their old fans, who too wish that they were 20.
The lyrics on whitechoclatespaceegg aren’t as vulgar as those on Phair’s two previous albums. However, they are still unflinchingly honest, combining Phair’s imagination with a bit of her now more mature real-life experiences. Musically, Phair stays true to her low-fi roots. The force driving most of the songs on wcse is Phair’s voice, which carries the melody over four guitar chords. Instead of the four track employed in Guyville, Phair and the producers have layered voices and experimented with different sounds.
Many of the sixteen tracks on this album are excellent. My personal favorite is the single “Polyester Bride,” which is currently being played on radio. In this song, Phair discusses a conversation with a bartender who gives her drinks for free because he’s a “sucker for [her] lucky pretty eyes.” Other standouts include “Ride,” an upbeat power pop song, the title track, “Johnny Feelgood” and “Uncle Alvarez.” The album shifts from slow, comfortable, lyric-oriented ballads with lulling background music to catchy, upbeat four to five chord songs.
For Phair’s fans, this album is a must-buy. For those who are unfamiliar with her but are fans of her Lilith Fair counterparts Sarah McLachlan and Natalie Merchant, this album is a good sampling of Phair’s music. After all, it was Phair’s groundbreaking first album that directed the male-dominated executive boards of major music labels to take a wide-range of female artists from McLachlan and Merchant to Tori Amos and Alanis Morissette seriously.