Liz Phair's been a bit of a low-grade lightning rod ever since she released Exile in Guyville. She made a lot of hard core fans with that record, wrought as it was with rage, sex and honesty. I remember my first few spins of the CD — I was probably 16-years-old, and I'd never heard anything like Liz. The lo-fi recording sounded thin, but somehow dangerous to my raised-on-the-radio ears. Her liberal cursing surprised me in the days when radio edit versions of songs were virtually unheard of, and listening to this woman deliver the f-word with relish and regret made me feel like a bit of a daredevil. And the salacious "Flower," well, it just made me squirm. In all, it was a life-changing record, and I'm hardly the first to feel that way.
She's never made another record as raw as Guyville, and for that, she's been called a sell-out and far, far worse. Her sound's gotten more lush with every album, and many would say, more mainstream. But her sense of humor still sets her apart, and the blatant way her lyrics trace her life kept me with her all the way through whitechocolatespaceegg, even though by then, her songs were much about motherhood and marriage, things I wasn't even musing about in 1998.
Phair took some time off, then released albums in 2003 and 2005 before dipping out again. Then, on July 4, 2010, she independently unveiled Funstyle on her website. The Daily Beast's Emily Gould, who calls herself "not remotely objective when it comes to Liz Phair" so deep is her devotion, sat down with Phair for an hour. When Gould raised the issue that many fans of her early work have, that they feel personally betrayed by her path, Phair's response is quite clear:
Everything that people lob at you who don't know you, it all hurts. When you're doing something as simple as making music, which really, theoretically, shouldn't hurt anyone — I mean, it's a song! Step back for five seconds and laugh.
I've had the same friends since I was little. I keep all my long-term relationships. I'm close with my family. I'm a more honest and kind person than I've ever been, I'm more responsible — I think whatever they wanted me to be would be like asking me to stay in this developmental cage.
Should she really have to stay"lost" and "miserable," words she uses to describe her life circa-Guyville, just to feed her angsty fans? Surely not. So you don't have to listen to Funstyle, or anything but Guyville if that's your choice. You keep your Liz, and maybe, in your lighter moments, cheer her on. Or at least, keep your sell-out comments to yourself.