AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Twenty-five years ago this week, Liz Phair released her debut album, "Exile In Guyville," and upended the indie rock scene.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOAP STAR JOE")
LIZ PHAIR: (Singing) He's a just a hero in a long line of heroes looking for something attractive to save.
CORNISH: It came at a time when rock was very into shock value.
PHAIR: My way of doing that was to take agency over my sexuality and just say, like, shocking things in this little girl voice to see if anyone would notice or get the irony.
CORNISH: Her lyrics were graphic, feminist, and they rattled the music industry. The double LP became one of the most divisive, well-loved albums of its time. Now "Exile In Guyville" is getting a re-release. The massive 25th anniversary box set includes remastered music and never-before-released tapes. NPR's Alyssa Edes has more.
ALYSSA EDES, BYLINE: Liz Phair was in her early 20s when she wrote this album. She was living in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood unemployed. And she says her personal life was a disaster.
PHAIR: I'd graduated from college. I'd moved out of my parents' house. But at the same time, I hadn't put on the proper jacket of adulthood.
EDES: She spent a lot of time hanging out at bars with dudes, getting people to buy her drinks and listening to live music. Then she found a cassette tape that would change her life...
(SOUNDBITE OF THE ROLLING STONES SONG, "ROCKS OFF")
EDES: ...The Rolling Stones' "Exile On Main St." It was in the grimy apartment she was sharing with her then-boyfriend.
PHAIR: I kind of pulled it out of this box of cassettes, and I said, like, is this a good one? Is this, like, the best one they ever did? And I think he said something sarcastic like, yeah, why don't you do a double album, as if it was the most ludicrous thing he could possibly suggest. And in that moment - this just, like, rock-solid determination. And I was like, OK, I will.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCKS OFF")
THE ROLLING STONES: (Singing) He don't come around no more. Is he checking out for sure?
EDES: She took "Exile On Main St.," one of the most masculine albums of all time, and made a track-by-track response. Take the Stones' "Rocks Off" versus Phair's "6'1"."
PHAIR: In "Rocks Off," he bumps into someone that he used to date, and he's sort of doing the walk of shame back from where he's been all night. And he's sort of describing how in her eyes, she's looking at him with this resentment. And so for "6'1"," I pretended to be the girl that he bumped into.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "6'1"")
PHAIR: (Singing) I bet you fall in bed too easily with the beautiful girls who are shyly brave. And you sell yourself as a man to save...
EDES: "Guyville" came out at a time when the music industry was beginning to change. Many female musicians were challenging misogyny and insisting their voices be heard. Phair was doing that in a way almost no one else was in part because she was demystifying the most powerful force in rock 'n' roll, sex.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLOWER")
PHAIR: (Singing) Every time I see your face, I get all wet between my legs.
ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Popular music has always been a vehicle for talking frankly and openly about sex, but often that's happened in very exaggerated terms, you know? The brilliant thing that Liz Phair did was to talk about sex in a normal tone.
EDES: That's Ann Powers, NPR music critic who wrote an essay about "Guyville" for the new box set.
POWERS: Phair was a bit of an outsider, and she didn't conform to what a cool, underground woman was supposed to be like. People used to say, oh, she looks like a cheerleader. To that I say, who cares what she looks like? It's the music she makes that matters.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIVORCE SONG")
PHAIR: (Singing) And when I asked for a separate room...
EDES: Powers says Phair was clapping back at the idea that she wasn't equal not unlike what's happening today.
POWERS: I think that's very similar to the conversations people are having right now in the light of the #MeToo movement. There's a lot of wiping away the assumptions about what women can do and saying, hey, this is what equality looks like on the ground. And that's what Liz Phair said, too, in her music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIVORCE SONG")
PHAIR: (Singing) I would have stayed in your bed for the rest of my life just to prove I was right that it's harder to be friends than lovers.
EDES: "Guyville" resonates now for Phair personally, too. She says it's the feeling of needing to tell someone, you will not silence me.
PHAIR: Women are finding their voices to say what their experience is, and I think that's extremely parallel to what I was trying to do with that record. I was demanding a voice for myself.
(SOUNDBITE OF LIZ PHAIR SONG, "NEVER SAID")
EDES: Phair says, don't underestimate the girl next door. Alyssa Edes NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEVER SAID")
PHAIR: (Singing) I never said nothing.
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