Liz Phair

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Exile In Guyville, 8/10
Whip-Smart, 6.5/10
Whitechocolatespaceegg, 7.5/10
Liz Phair (2003), 5/10
Somebody's Miracle (2005), 4/10
Funstyle (2010), 4/10
Soberish (2021), 5/10

Chicago's Liz Phair rose to prominence with a highly intellectual post-modernist and post-feminist exercise, Exile In Guyville (1993), theoretically a diary of brutal confessions (and superficially a hyper-realistic orgy of lust) but in practice a vast fresco of the women of her generation, musically modeled after the Rolling Stones' masterpiece but also quoting everybody from Bob Dylan to Juliana Hatfield. Less cynical and more romantic, Whip-Smart (1994) and especially Whitechocolatespaceegg (1998) focused on her eclectic musical skills. Phair now engaged in a more oblique approach to her sexual and moral appetites, to reconciling sex and love, an approach which revealed her as an impressive innovator of the folk-rock idiom.
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Liz Phair, figlia di uno scienziato famoso e di un'insegnante d'arte, laureata in Belle Arti, balzo` prepotentemente alla ribalta a Chicago con una personalita` e una musica che ne facevano un "caso".

Entrata nell'entourage degli Urge Overkill, fotogenica ed estroversa, con alle spalle un passato sentimentale tanto precoce quanto turbolento, nonche' dotata di una voce forte e bassa, Phair incise due cassette senza grandi pretese, poi raccolte sul mini-album Juvenilia (Matador, 1995).

A lanciarla, in maniera stratosferica, all'eta` di 26 anni, e` Exile In Guyville (Matador, 1993), un doppio album modellato (canzone per canzone) sul celebre capolavoro dei Rolling Stones (con lei nei panni dell'amante di Jagger che risponde da un'angolatura post-femminista alle sue sguaiate profferte maschiliste). Il trucco post-moderno si presta in realta` per confessare le proprie ossessioni nei confronti dei rapporti sessuali e pertanto per un intenso e scabroso scavo autobiografico (Fuck And Run, forse la piu` violenta, Girls Girls Girls). Con versi come "I want to fuck you like a dog/.../I want to be your blowjob queen" (Flower) e "I can feel it in my bones/ I'm gonna spend another year alone/ It's fuck and run" sembra piu` che altro voler offendere se stessa.
Per quanto arrangiato in maniera spartana, con un folkpop alla Juliana Hatfield, il disco annovera momenti di rock trascinante, come Never Said e Johnny Sunshine. Nel lungo "sogno" psichedelico di Canary e nella romanza pianistica di Divorce Song sfoggia anche ambizioni sperimentali. Eccelle comunque nelle canzoni in cui trionfa la melodia, in particolare nella Help Me Mary che ruba una nota accorata a Bob Dylan. Alla fine (a parte forse Shatter) a latitare dal novero delle citazioni sono proprio loro, i Rolling Stones.
Sia pur con diverse cadute di tono e una certa monotonia, il disco risulta per la sua stessa unicita` una pietra miliare del moderno cantautorato. L'opera fornisce anche uno spaccato realista di Wicker Park, il quartiere bohemien di Chicago.

Rispetto a quell'orgia iper-realista di lussuria, Whip-Smart (Matador, 1994) e` un'opera meno tematica e piu` cerebrale: rotto il ghiaccio con una specie di mantra per pianoforte (Chopsticks), che inquadra il suo paradigma preferito della relazione sentimentale ridotta ai minimi termini, Phair s'inoltra nell'atmosfera marziale e sognante di Nashville, degna del Dylan di Blonde On Blonde, scimmiotta Lou Reed in Go West, sferragliando a ritmo "ferroviario" in Jealousy e crogiolandosi nel languido jazzino di Shane, ma sempre con quel suo tono disincantato e fondamentalmente volgare. Sono canzoni il cui romanticismo fa da contraltare al volgare cinismo dell'esordio. Ma forse Whip-Smart e` soltanto un lavoro piu` musicale, tant'e` che l'orecchiabile Supernova potrebbe essere il suo primo hit, X-Ray Man e` degna dei girl-group piu` grintosi degli anni '60, Cinco De Mayo ha l'incedere di una gioviale filastrocca e la title-track e` una tiritera venata di calypso come usano le cantanti generiche.

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Ending a long absence due to marriage and maternity, Whitechocolatespaceegg (Capitol, 1998) proves that, out of puberty, Liz Phair is a "rocker", and a far warmer and far less girlcentric one than her overly intimate lyrics would imply. Phair is a musician, engaged in a more oblique approach to dealing with her sexual and moral appetites, to reconciling sex and love, and approach which disposes with her controversial wit in favor of a more melodious musical persona.
Phair's new side is playful, catchy and groovy, well represented by upbeat and taut country-rocker Johnny Feelgood. No less poignant, her soliloquies now indulge in plenty of pop refrains and progressions (Big Tall Man, Love Is Nothing), with a tinge of psychedelic folk-rock (Ride). Her ordinary voice lends them the sentimental epos of a Billy Joel (Polyester Bride). As a matter of fact, the album, as well as Phair's melodic and scoring talent, peak with the epic and nostalgic waltz of Shitloads Of Money.
The sound is a complicated puzzle of colorful chords, simple to the point of mimicking the acoustic folksinger of days gone (Uncle Alvarez), elegant to the point of coining a sort of rock chamber music (Perfect World, complete with strings).
Phair and her producers have obviously studied the history of rock and roll, as debris of classic styles (gospel organs, rhythm and blues drums, blues chords, lisergic timbres, folk arias) surface almost everywhere.
What does not fit is, surprisingly, the harder edge, i.e. songs like the grunge-y Chocolate Space Egg, wrapped in a shower of distorted guitar riffs, or Baby Got Going, garage-harmonica and frenzy pace and all (as a matter of fact, she didn't write the music of either). Compare with the suave motion of Headache, as she whispers her litany over a spare and vaguely psychedelic arrangement of fuzz guitar and chirpy organ.
As a less ambitious and angry songwriter, freed of any vestigial ties to the controversial riot grrrrl of Guyville, Phair ranks as an impressive innovator of the folk-rock form.

Devoted as much to success as to marginalization (with a stated agenda of recording records that are as melodic as they are obscene, i.e., as radio-friendly as they are censorious), Phair projects an image that sums up two decades of female empowerment in rock music, a swaggering Joni Mitchell, Chrissie Hynde, Joan Jett, Madonna, and Kim Gordon mix.

Liz Phair (Capitol, 2003) not only introduces a new Phair (a divorced, 36-year-old single mom), but also a new musician, one that strives to reinvent the canon of folk-pop (Red Light Fever, Why Can't I?, Firewalker, It's Sweet). When she harks back to her past, she falls flat: the erotic imagery of Rock Me, H.W.C. and Favorite sounds tired and strained, and a little embarrassing at her age (more like a midlife-crisis than a confessional urge). But elsewhere (Extraordinary, Friend of Mine) she manages to find a new voice that is both gritty and sophisticated.

The unremarkable, bland and frequently obnoxious Somebody's Miracle (Capitol, 2005) could have been made by any of the many aspiring divas of pop muzak. And the lyrics are even more obtuse than the music. Everything to Me was the first single.

Funstyle (2010), which includes the rarities of Girlysound Tapes, was a confused collection that mixed bad experiments with bad songs.

Liz Phair pivoted to pop muzak on Liz Phair and never looked back. Soberish (Chrysalis, 2021), her first album in 11 years, produced by Brad Wood, the same producer of her debut Exile In Guyville, boasts several cheesy singalongs over martial rhythms and occasionally of a truly infectious hook. If Dosage updates Carole King to the romantic pop of the Bangles, and the refrain of Hey Lou harkens back to the bubblegum-pop of the 1960s but powered by the guitar twang of country music, Bad Kitty finds a glorious compromise between the punkette of the 1980s and the spunkly country girl of the 1990s (think of Patty Loveless of I'm Not that Kind of Girl). There are several adventurous moments, from the lethargic trip-hop shuffle Soul Sucker to vocal harmonies of the doo-wop era borrowed for Spanish Doors, peaking with Ba Ba Ba, a goofy nursery rhyme over a cheap beat-machine that echoes the synth-pop of the 1980s but with a neoclassical cello and Laurie Anderson-esque babbling... The album swims in a lake of guitar riffs stolen from dozens of hits of the past. But the filler is truly embarrassing, starting with the electronic dance ballad In There. This could have been a delightful 5-song EP.

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