Exile in Guyville, by Liz Phair
Suggested by Neil Hodgkinson
This review, and the next, will likely be unique in this project.
When I downed tools some two months ago, I’d listened to Albums 437 and 438 in preparation for my review. But instead of writing, I simply stopped. After seven months of loquacious effluvia, there were no more words in me.
During the break, this album’s suggester has taken pleasure in believing that his suggestion was the one to break me.
Sorry Neil, but I can disabuse you of that notion. This album, like so many before it and far too many of late, simply sailed by unheralded, bereft of redeeming feature, perfectly fine but completely amorphous. If music were a hand-written letter, this would be a blotted blob of ink from an overeager fountain pen.
The uniqueness of this, and the next, review lies in the listening. The albums are both new to me, but I have heard them before, and have had two months to ruminate between teach listen.
Today, I charged up my neglected Spotify account and re-ran my early April day. I started with Liz Phair’s debut, Exile in Guyville, and gave it a renewed chance. Will this Nineties brand of indie guitar and quirky lyric prove more palatable after sixty days of, well, Exile in Musicville?
My problem with this much-heralded album lies in the vocal. Simply put, at this stage of her career, Liz Phair couldn’t sing. She’s off-key and whining throughout. It’s legitimately grating, and ever present, so much so that I suppose it has to be an actual design choice. Can Liz Phair sing now, some twenty-eight years later? No clue, but I suppose that six more albums, including her latest release that hit the virtual shelves a mere three days ago, would suggest that she’s become acceptable at the very least. I may well go listen to Soberish, her new album, to compare and contrast.
This album sounds like a certain shard of the Nineties, clear and evocative, but in truth it occupies a space that is crowded with other more interesting fare. If I want this sound, this cultured and quirky storied indie narrative, I go to Ani DiFranco, or Tori Amos. Or Bjork, or Alanis. I have this stuff covered, and there’s no space for any more.
The early Nineties saw me exiting my teens, open to fresh music and new ideas. The fact that I didn’t pick this up back then points me to the notion that perhaps this particular shard isn’t one in which my heart resides. Wider fans of the genre will surely embrace Liz, or more likely have embraced Liz already. And it’s clear to me that, while I declare she can’t sing, she most definitely can speak, as her lyrics are strong and exciting and more than a little uncomfortable. Songs like Flower, my standout F**k and Run, and the opener 6’1” linger long in the mind, albeit in an unfriendly way, like a squatter, or a protester chained to a tree.
Exile in Guyville did little to enthuse in April, and brought nothing new to the table today. I’ll give it 5/10, and move on, safe in the knowledge that the initial listen did not come close to breaking my resolve.
That accolade goes to the next album in rotation…