Liz Phair, performing Exile in Guyville live at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, Calif.
A lot has changed in the 15 years since Liz Phair first unleashed her provocative and playfully raunchy album Exile in Guyville. The sexually charged and profane songs, though still compelling, seem almost tame by today's standards. The novelty of chick-rock has long since passed, as countless other women have joined the mix. And Phair herself now says that Exile is, in retrospect, more a sad testament to her personal struggles and vulnerability than an empowering statement.
But Exile in Guyville still resonates — if not for its faded shock value, then for its brilliant songcraft. It remains a vivid, beautifully realized pastiche of hard rock, moody piano pieces and power-pop. Phair's piercing but wryly delivered confessionals, her ringing guitar and muscular riffs, and producer Brad Wood's crisp studio work spawned countless imitators. Exile was a remarkably confident and virtually flawless debut, and 15 years later, it remains a classic.
Since its release, Phair has distanced herself somewhat from the album that made her famous. She says that she avoided listening to it for many years. The kind of music Phair wanted to make evolved as she grew older, and she grew less interested in exploring the themes of Exile. Recalling the feelings the album dredges up hasn't always been easy.
"In a weird way, the reason I can play the record now and be emotionally present in it is because I'm not the same person," Phair tells NPR's Alex Cohen. "I've worked long and hard on personal growth because I wasn't that happy — the thread of that record is pain."
While Matador Records originally released Exile in Guyville and sold hundreds of thousands of copies, the album eventually fell out print. ATO recently acquired rights to the recordings and released a special, 15th-anniversary edition of the CD this summer, adding four previously unreleased tracks.
In spite of her misgivings, Phair agreed to mark the 15th anniversary of Exile in Guyville with a limited tour, performing the entire album in select cities. Phair tells NPR's Alex Cohen the concerts have been cathartic. "It's pretty fun to go through the songs and have the resonance between way back then and now, and I can certainly play them a lot better than I did when it first came out. It's a nice closure in a weird way. It kind of puts it to bed the right way this time."
This performance by Phair was recorded live at The Troubadour in West Hollywood, Calif., on Oct. 5. Alex Cohen hosts.