Liz Phair, “Liz Phair”

Liz Phair
With all the attention being paid to her in the world of music, you’d think Liz Phair were the anti-Christ this week. She’s shed her alt-rock stylings for something more radio-friendly. In her mid-30s, she’s decided to make an album to reach out to more of the general population. This, she figures, might be her last best chance to pull in a large audience.

For that, of course, she’s branded a sell-out and her music is trashed. One critic in the New York Times even penned an irate editorial against the current record, branding it “career suicice.”

With feelings burning this hot, I had to give the album a chance. I’ve never listened to her earlier albums. I’m coming into this fresh. And what I found with the eponymous album is a fun pop sound that sticks in your head and is fairly radio-friendly. Some of the lyrics sound like they’re written by a whiney teenager at times, but the music carries you through it with a strong hook. (“Why can’t I breathe whenever I think about you? Why can’t I speak whenever I talk about you?” Why does every singer/songwriter have to have a song about breathing these days? Damn you, Faith Hill!)

The problem comes when Phair throws a bone to her indie rock fans and gets the CD brandished with a “Mature Lyrics” label, thus killing its potential sales to much of the very audience she says she’s going after. The album whisks by until the final third, which includes a song titled “H.W.C.” I try to maintain some level of family-friendliness on this page, so I won’t tell you what it stands for, but suffice it to say it’s fairly crude and, in some minds, vulgar. This isn’t an album I’d give a tweener, based solely on that song. Phair sings it with a nod to her base, pounding home the offensive lyric with great repetition.

If you’re trying to aim for the bubble gum pop sound, why do you also work against it so strongly on the same album? If you’re going to change your sound, go all the way.

The crew at The Matrix produced a small number of songs on this album. They were responsible for Avril Lavigne’s album, and their sound comes through. I picked out three of their four contributions to the album without reading the liner notes. The techno-echo sound was obvious.

“Liz Phair” is a fun album that earns its “Explicit Content” notice, sadly. “Rock Me” is destined to be a single, and could very well be Demi Moore’s anthem. (“Oh baby, you’re young, but that’s OK, what’s give or take nine years, anyway? … want you to rock me all night, baby.”) The CD is stuck in my car stereo, because I don’t want to listen to anything else right now. I’m in a groove with this one. Makes me want to check out what the previous efforts sound like. In that, I supposed this album is successful. It’s reached me.


10 Responses to “Liz Phair, “Liz Phair””

  1. Brandon Stenger
    27. June 2003 at 23:11

    I tried to like this new album. I really, really did. And it does have some good points. It’s just too much of a pop album from an artist that I have loved for years.

    The incredible amount of over-production on this album completely kills the sound that Liz had on her first three albums. On most of this album you can’t even hear her guitar, much less her voice. That voice was one of the key reasons that I’ve kept going back to those CDs again and again.

    As for why HWC is on the album, I have no idea. Liz has always had, and justifiably so, a reputation for raw lyrics. This track sounds more like a parody of that reputation than anything else. I agree that it will certainly limit her sales. It is actually my least favorite song on the album.

    If this CD wasn’t from Liz Phair, I might enjoy it. As it is, I don’t think it will receive too many playings.

  2. BronteJD
    28. June 2003 at 09:57

    Augie, thanks for your review. I’ve actually been toying with the idea of picking it up at Best Buy, since I’ve been experimenting with more “folky/indy” stuff. However, your review has now cemented my desire to get it, since the pop is certainly more accessible, and then work backwards from there.

    Speaking of, have you purchased/listened to the new Michelle Branch CD? I got it a couple of days ago, and was curious as to what you thought….

  3. Augie De Blieck Jr.
    29. June 2003 at 00:06

    And I think with these two very posts we see the exact kind of reactions the album is going to get. The “old school” fans are not going to like it because it’s not true to the previous albums. “New school” fans might just be born because of it.

    Nothing wrong with that. It is what it is. It is interesting, though, from a marketing standpoint. I am definitely more inclined to try one of her previous CDs next, though, fully aware that it won’t be anything like this one. Isn’t that odd?

    Yes, Patricia, I did pick up the new Michelle Branch CD this week. (They were both only $9.99 at Best Buy.) It’s OK. I like it. It’s not going to spend that much time in my CD player, though. I had much the same reaction to her first CD. I do think, however, that this second CD is an improvement on the first. Does any of this make sense?

    Her songs play well on the radio in short bursts, but a full album often seems overkill and lifeless to me. We’ll see if another listening changes my mind any.


  4. Brandon Stenger
    29. June 2003 at 00:30

    I’ll be the first one to admit that I can be an elitist butthead sometimes, but I really don’t think that’s the case here. If you were to pick up Exile in Guyville, Liz’s first album, I honestly think you would understand why some of her long-time fans are disappointed with the new one. It isn’t that this one is necessarily bad, but that her prior efforts have been so very, very good.

  5. Kevin Hines
    29. June 2003 at 12:42

    I love Liz Phair, and I plan on getting her new album soon, but I also plan on being dissappointed.

    I have already heard a number of the new songs – and while I enjoy them, I can’t see me pulling that CD out year after year to listen to it again and again. And I do that with the other albums.

    I don’t mind an artist trying something new. I don’t want 4 albums that sound exactly the same. But if that something ‘new’ is what a lot of other artists are already doing, it seems kind of wasted.

    If she is doing this to sell more albums – well I don’t want to say she shouldn’t do that. But its sad.

    And not as sad as Jewel writing a song that makes fun of ‘selling out’ and then selling the rights to the song to be used in a commercial. That is ridiculous!

  6. BronteJD
    29. June 2003 at 14:51

    Okay, have listened to almost the entire CD now. A few songs somehow seem stuck on Replay. ;) I like it alot, so far. Will definitely have to listen to it again in its entirety – MINUS H.W.C. ICK ICK ICK!!!! That was absolutely not necessary and makes no sense to include it on an album that is so obviously attempting to fit into a more mainstream genre. Weird.

    Kev, which of Liz’s other albums do you recommend the most??

  7. Brandon Stenger
    29. June 2003 at 18:35

    I would recommend downloading the “Internet EP” that you get access to by buying the new album. I haven’t finished it yet, but so far I like it considerably more than the album. It certainly sounds more like the old stuff.

  8. Kevin Hines
    29. June 2003 at 22:30

    Patricia – ‘Exile in Guyville’ is her first and best. As with many first albums, the music is not as full as her later albums, but the songs are so strong they overcome that.

  9. Bill Doughty
    30. June 2003 at 09:11

    I liked this album well enough. It’s not my favorite thing she’s ever done, but most of it’s pretty decent. If she wants to change her style a little, hey, more power to her. My only complaint is that a few of the songs (the ones produced by The Matrix, mostly) sound a little too overproduced for my liking, but I suppose that’s what works on radio these days.

    My biggest worry, though, is the cover and the PR photos I’ve seen. Liz has always been very upfront with her sexuality. If that’s just an extension of that (or of a woman proving she’s still amazingly sexy after becoming a mom), then I’m all for it. If it’s just to sell more records, though, I’ll admit I’m a little disappointed.

    By the way, if you think HWC is a little on the explicit side, compare it to Flower on her first album, Exile in Guyville, in which she explains in full detail exactly what she plans on doing to one particularly lucky sounding guy.

  10. Flippy
    29. July 2003 at 00:01

    I don’t understand why the album can’t be both pop and adult? I like the poppy sound, but I’m in my 30′s, so I’m comfortable with some explicit lyrics. Sure, I could without HWC in a song, but really, who couldn’t?