Country of origin:
Type of music generally:
Most recent release, Funstyle (2 CDs, 2010)
Liz Phair's site
Wikipedia's entry for Liz Phair
PJ Harvey, Cat Power, Kristin Hersh, Throwing Muses, Aimee Mann, The Breeders, Penelope Houston, Jennifer Trynin, Lisa Germano, Annie Hayden
Other women have written about the same subjects, but it is often veiled in pretty language or pretty music. I like that too, but it is good to hear someone do it raw. Feels very cleansing and honest to me. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I do like Liz Phair. I received a tape from a friend early in 1994 with a few Liz Phair songs on it. I was largely unimpressed. She didn't really have a very good voice was my initial impression. Well, since the tape was a compilation of stuff, I ended up hearing Ms. Phair's songs over and over and suddenly realized that I liked them, so I bought her album. Again, it wasn't an album that immediately grabbed me and said, "Oh my God, this is fantastic!" However, I did like it, and eventually, after getting to know it, I loved it.
I think a lot of Liz's appeal is her honest and gutsy approach to songwriting. Lyrically, she doesn't pull any punches. She speaks her mind in a forthright and direct manner, and tough shit if someone doesn't like it. Musically, she appeals to me, because she writes nice melodies. They're catchy and poppy, but they have teeth. I also like her videos and interviews because she seems pretty down to earth and normal. Her strength is definitely in her songwriting, and she has a passable enough voice to carry the songs, in my opinion. (email@example.com)
Liz really had a knack for writing insightful, powerful off kilter SONGS. She has so much admitted that she could never make another Guyville even if she tried. I'm not looking for another Guyville per se. I'm looking for that old Phair integrity. The Liz that sat down with her guitar and worked incessantly on creating cool abstract lyrics and quirky guitar riffs. (ToriCure@aol.com)
Liz phair rocks. Liz is amazing. Her voice is only adequate, but she writes songs that make SO MUCH SENSE. She doesn't doll up her music, and I have to say that some of her best stuff isn't on any of her albums, but on the Girlysounds demos.
Liz Phair is not everyone's cup of tea. Much more accessible than PJ Harvey, Liz has a talent for creating catchy pop songs with provocative diary-entry lyrics. No wonder, as her first album was created out of songs she had written for herself (and herself only, she never played out and most people never even knew she played the guitar) in her bedroom.
Story goes that a friend of hers gave Liz a 4-track recorder and told her to tape her songs for him. She did and he proceeded to dub them and send them off to his friends who dubbed them and sent them off to their friends etc, etc. These demo songs were called Girlysounds, and a large majority of Liz's first album can be heard here (along with a few from her second and third album as well). When LIZ finally got around to figuring out that maybe she could make some money by doing an album, she asked said friend what label would be the coolest to sign to. He told her Matador in NYC, so she called them up, and they had actually acquired a copy of the Girlysounds tapes and told her, yeah go ahead and make an album. Thus came Whip-smart.
LIZ's voice has improved (she's been taking lessons) and she's getting geared up for touring. We shall see how things are, as she has had problems with touring and playing live (she cancelled a tour because of stage fright, but six months later went back out on her own and toured solo without a backing band to prove to herself that she could do it).
I think with whitechocolatespaceegg Liz shows that she has some staying power, and will most likely have a long career in music if she wishes. She isn't PJ Harvey, she doesn't challenge or push or innovate like PJH, but in her own little world, she creates great music.
Liz is probably one of the most honest songwriters that I have heard...maybe it has to do with the fact that the songs were written without the idea of an audience, but just for herself and when her friend told her to make him a tape of her stuff, she didn't have any concept of it going any further than that. It was a fluke that she got her record contract and a fluke she hit it big. I am looking forward to her new album (whitechocolatespaceegg), should be good. Some of the new songs she performed were excellent. Better than the stuff on Whip-smart for those who were disappointed with that album. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I first heard of Liz Phair via word of mouth. I bought Exile in Guyville from a used tape place and was not at all impressed. I couldn't even listen to it all the way through. Then a few months later I picked it up because I wanted some music to go jogging to. It's hard to describe what happened. The tape didn't leave my walkman for weeks. I think it was mainly her lyrics that appealed to me when I started to listen carefully. And the music insinuated itself into my consciousness. It still doesn't hold the same place that Happy Rhodes, Kate Bush, Sarah McLachlan or Tori Amos does in my musical heart ;-) but I really like it. (V115P8D6@UBVMS.CC.BUFFALO.EDU)
Liz is one of my fave artists right now. Basically, i love the woman, Liz, because she's a bitch and she knows it. I love her attitude and wish I could pull something off like that. She's basically a person we all know...someone who has passed by in our lives and we've always said, "I never really liked her" but knew no reason *why*. If you read any of her interviews, you'll understand what I'm saying.
As far as her music...I'm really attracted to female grunge right now and I've really gotten into Veruca Salt, Mazzy Star, Belly, and Liz. I don't know what the real attraction is other than I'm a woman and love to see other woman getting recognition for their music and love to see women artists writing songs other than about love. (email@example.com)
Talking about women singing and being angry, how come no one talks about Liz Phair? She also sings about her sexuality more in your face then Tori Amos. Songs like "Fuck and Run" and "Flower." (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Exile in Guyville is in my all-time rock top 5, easy. But i never thought Liz Phair had any *integrity*; she sold her first record with an exposed nipple on the front cover. She wrote some fantastic lyrics, but she wrote some utter crap back then too ("Flower," or the original "Stratford-on-guy" with its "this is your very last flight" part). And while she came up with some pretty neat parts, Girlysounds is full of quirky guitar riffs plundered wholesale from other artists. Indie rock producer Brad Wood made an indie rock record from her material, and I do think there was genius in his decision not to force her to sing in tune or play in time. But even then, I never had a sense that Phair was buying into any indie rock aesthetic.
Personally, I think the 'good' to 'crud' ratio is somewhat better on Liz Phair (especially if you count the 5-song bonus ep you can download) than on whitechocolatespaceegg if not up to Whip-smart, and nowhere near Exile in Guyville. But if Exile wasn't exactly a fluke, it was surely the result of picking the best songs written over a period of several years. (email@example.com)
I really like Liz Phair. I dunno if she can be considered "Ecto", but I really like her Whip-smart and Exile in Guyville albums. A lot of people are saying Alanis is the new Liz Phair, but I can't really agree with that. Okay, so they're both female singers whose music is assertive and angry, but in my opinion Liz is a lot more up front than Alanis, and also expresses a wider range of emotions. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Imagine Slayer as an intelligent young woman with a fascination for gender issues, a pile of well-worn Let's Active records and absolutely no concern for what anybody's parents will think, especially her own. (email@example.com)
I think it was in a recent Entertainment Weekly that an article/interview with Liz appeared, talking about the new record, Liz Phair, obviously. It focused on the idea that Liz made this album in order to become a famous rock/pop star. Stratosphere, world-renowned, not just niche-adored.
She worked with two producers, including Michael Penn, and, while happy with what she got, she wasn't satisfied that she had real hit quality; and so in came the Matrix production team and voilá, a bunch of tunes gunning for the hearts of the radio programmers.
This I understood. But what surprised me in the article were Liz's statements that she was basically over the whole indie scene even when she was doing Exile in Guyville. The article seemed to say that Liz has wanted to be big-time famous for a while but was kinda pigeonholed with Exile. Maybe I read that part wrong, but the whole "not being an indie rat" thing definitely stuck out.
It sounded like revisionist history to me, because from what I remembered of 10 years ago, when Exile came out, and then a couple years later with Whip-smart, was that all the articles, reviews, and interviews in alternative weeklies, Rolling Stone, Spin, CMJ, etc. talked about this breakthrough indie/alternative darling and how she was all indie-cool panache. Hip, sexy, potty-mouth, brazen, too cool for school.
But then I realized that a lot of that stuff was attached to her by the critics and the fans (me too, cuz i was an indie-nerd wannabe) and who knows if she really was past the indie scene, or if she's just now making it up? I mean, I remember when she made her debut on Letterman and she was palpably scared shitless, eyes closed, voice quavering. There must have been some huge drive for this girl with terrible stage fright to get up and perform on national tv for millions of people. Then I saw her, what, 5 years later at Lilith Fair on the main stage, and she sang with ease and strength, and you could tell that she had been working hard to improve her voice and defeat her performance fears. Maybe it was all incremental steps to get her to the point where she could make that big pop album. (Don't forget her helping out on Sheryl Crow's C'mon C'mon and appearing with her as a backup singer on the late night circuit.)
Or maybe she WAS a hardcore indie queen, and then she outgrew that phase of her life and now she wants to live the celebrity lifestyle? She can change her mind over the course of ten years, right?
I dunno. I went back and listened to whitechocolatespaceegg last week and really enjoyed it. I think I'll stick with the first three albums for now. (Paul2k@aol.com)
Comments about live performance:
i love liz phair. and i highly agree that liz is a studio artist. but if you haven't had a chance to hear her live then you shouldn't judge her. she did have a bout of stage fright. but that doesn't mean that she (and others in general) can't get over it.
i have heard reports and have boots and liz sounded fine if not excellent in the concerts i have on tape. i find the studio version of some of her songs boring in comparison to her energetic renditions on stage. especially her song "whip-smart." her acoustic performance of "support system" is excellent as well.
liz got thrust into the spotlight after Exile in Guyville, much to her own chagrin. she never expected to garner so much press or so much publicity. she hated it, and the "fame" that she received did not help her in her stage performance.
live she does not have the personality of a turnip. she is constantly is talking to people and making comments about her songs on stage. at least she is now. she invites people up on stage to sit around with her. her set has furniture that she picks up at the city she is in, and she has the audience come up and lounge around. turnips do not invite fan members to sit on their couches on stage. :)
i for one wish she did not get the fame and the huge popularity she did. it would have been nice to see her in a small intimate cafe or something. she seems cut out for that type of show. (4/95, firstname.lastname@example.org)
To get some insight, at no cost, into what we've periodically been bashing, tonight I went to Liz Phair's free in-store performance at Tower Records.
She performed perhaps half a dozen songs, some from her new album and others from the earlier ones. I was fairly far back in the crowd, so I was unable to see whether the performance was fully unplugged, but it was definitely less amplified, and of course less produced, than her studio recordings. Some of the latter were played afterward on the store's sound system, so I had a chance to compare renditions of some numbers; tonight's live renditions were actually better. The heavy electric guitar riffs, etc., that producers seem to think are needed for radio may actually be counterproductive from an aesthetic standpoint.
This is not cutting edge-music; we all know that. But at the same time, it wasn't quite as insipid as the primarily negative reviews might have conditioned one to expect. Some of the lyrics were quite well-written indeed, as were some of the tunes. She also is an excellent stage banterer, with a lot of wit, and reminiscences on her years in Chicago. She clearly is an intelligent, articulate person whose particular career aspirations have arguably driven her to fall in with the wrong crowd of handlers. Phair's recent music is actually better than many in the pop/rock genre; is it possible that a lot of the bashing is ultimately driven by relative deprivation, a longing for the indie-rock mainstay she might have become had she managed to stay on the Guyville track?
It's pretty widely agreed that her desire for radio play was what caused her to arguably lose her way artistically. It makes one long for the days when free-form, open-cabinet radio was a bigger business than it is today. If it still was, perhaps the Guyville Phair could have had her radio and eaten it too, as it were. (7/03, email@example.com)
Recommended first album:
Exile in Guyville
For those who are unfamiliar with her voice and sound, whitechocolatespaceegg or Somebody's Miracle might be easier places to start. (JoAnn Whetsell)
1993—Matador Records—OLE 051-2
Liz Phair—guitar, vocals
Casey Rice—cymbals, guitar, hand clapping, background vocals
Brad Wood—bass, bondos, drones, drums, guitar, organ, percussion, synthesizer, background vocals
Brad Wood and Liz Phair
People have been talking about Guyville. It's kind of been a recent discovery for me. At first I was a little turned off by the barrage of profane imagery. I took it as a shock thing at first. But the rugged production instantly got me. The gritty acoustic sound is great, and the electric sound I've always thought was pretty unique, very jagged and avoiding the smooth quality that producers normally get even when recording the hardest acts. Over time I got her point. She's talking about the decay of relationships, the decay of communication. It's not a nice subject. Within that theme she hits divorce ("The Divorce Song" is pure genius), abuse, drugs, self-hate and most of the time it's a full experience and you get it from the inside out. Exile in Guyville is kind of like reading a really good collection of short stories. And the experimental atmospheres and her world-weary, bittersweet vocals are perfect. I guess I'm at the point where I think it's one of the coolest records I've yet heard. It's almost amazing that this same person also wrote "Why Can't I Breathe." (RedWoodenBeads@aol.com)
I kinda like "Flower"—i think it's probably one of the dirtiest, funniest songs I know. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I think we can all agree that Exile In Guyville was one of the most remarkable debuts of the last decade or two. I'm listening to it right now, and it still sounds as punchy and concise as ever, full of moments of brilliance. (AzeemAK@aol.com)
There is so much more beneath the monotone voice and seedy photo concept. Despite the obvious sexual-shock rock content, her lyrics often paint a remarkable picture about human nature and relationships. No other artists have been able to express themselves lyrically in quite the same unique manner found on Guyville. I constantly come back to it, listen, and always come away hearing something new that I never picked up on before. And I've been a fan of this record since '94. The great thing about it is you either love it or hate it. Very few things in life are so black and white. There really is no in between. (ToriCure@aol.com)
Liz didn't know the first thing about making an album. so she took the album by the Rolling Stones, Exile in Mainstreet, and structured her album based on that one, only from a female perspective. witty, diary-esque, catchy, poppy, and quite plucky, Spin magazine picked it up and put Liz on the cover of their magazine, and all of sudden Exile In Guyville won the number one spot of the Village Voice Pazz and Jop survey. all without any press or video rotation on MTV. Sure Liz's voice ain't that great. sure Liz's guitar structure and chord progressions are pretty much ripped off from Barbara Manning. but there was something unique and insinuously catchy about the album. Liz wrote like that shy 17-year-old girl in high school who had a crush on the cute boy who didn't pay her any attention. when she sang "fuck and run" you KNEW exactly what she was talking about. and that was her gift. to write and sing all the ideas and thoughts that you had but never could vocalize. (email@example.com)
Everyone on the planet has been raving about this one, so I thought I'd see what all the fuss was about. I didn't particularly care for the single, but the album I quite like. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It's got to be number one, because I listened to it, argued about it and thought about it more than any other album this year. This tends to be the kind of album that people either love or hate; music stripped down to the bare essentials (just guitar on many tracks, but don't dare call it folk) and dazzling, revealing lyrics about life, love and sex. (email@example.com)
Liz Phair—guitar, vocals
Brad Wood—bass, drums, guitar, percussion, synthesizer, background vocals
Whip-smart is certainly a sophomore album. with still no experience in the rock industry, Liz took leftover material from her first album (ie more songs from Girlysounds) and put together a second one, under pressure from Matador to deliver. More like a collection of singles and b-sides than a full-fledged collective album (the songs don't quite run together and aren't nearly as cohesive as Exile in Guyville), Whip-smart nevertheless still has some great songs, including "SUpport System", the title track, "Go West", and my favorite "May Queen". worth checking out, but don't expect the same sensibility that makes someone identify with the songs that Exile gave you. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Recommended for fans
Liz Phair—guitar, vocals
an ep, this is pretty much for collectors. Juvenilia is actually a CD single/ep for the song "jealousy" from whip-smart. it has "jealousy," a silly cover, "Turning Japanese", and a few songs rescued from the famed Girlysounds (in their original demo form) and the song "jealousy" from whip-smart. Matador's ploy to get more money from the phans i think. (email@example.com)
1998—Capitol/Matador Records—CDP 7243 8 53554 2 4
Liz Phair—vocals, guitar, piano
Jason Chasko—guitar, bass, drums, piano, background vocal
Randy Wilson—keyboards, programming
Ed Tinley—engineering, guitar, claps
Nathan December—guitar, electric guitar
Scott Litt—keyboards, bass keyboard, violin, acoustic guitar, bass, harmonica, drums, programming, treatments, background vocals
Brad Wood—guitar, bass, drums, organ, keyboards, claps, engineering, drum machine
John Hiler—piano, keyboards, organ, guitar, programming, engineering, Liquid Grooves' loops, background vocals
Scott Bennett—bass, drums, organ, guitar
LeRoy Bach—acoustic bass
Mike Mills (R.E.M.)—bass
Peter Buck (R.E.M.)—guitar
Bill Berry (R.E.M.)—bongos
Liz Phair, Jason Chasko, Scott Litt, Brad Wood
Liz's latest, whitechocolatespaceegg is great. i had to listen to it three times before it clicked. not as raw and diary-esque like her debut Exile in Guyville, nor is it slapdash as whip-smart, whitechocolatespaceegg is probably a little bit more akin to whip-smart, but the songs are more mature, more together, and her voice lessons have definitely helped her with the polishing of the songs. my faith in her has been restored, and i think that her next couple of albums will be dynamite. there are only two songs i was familiar with on the album. "Shitloads of Money" is a revamped song from her underground Girlysounds tapes (and it is really the only song on the album i am not very fond of. the Girlysounds version is better) and "Ride" which Liz played in concert for her whip-smart/Juvenilia EP shows. the original chorus was "I need a ride" but she has since changed it into "i get a ride." Standout songs are the single "Polyester Bride", "Johnny Feelgood" (which was originally to be the single), "Uncle Alvarez", and "What Makes You Happy" (which is definitely my fave on the album). the song from the Matador compilation What's Up didn't make the album cut, which is just as well, because i remember hearing that song in the store, and being disappointed. much more polished and more on top of things. this album took four years to make (okay so LIZ got married and had a baby in the meanwhile). a definite progression, there is only one song on this album taken from Girlysounds, and the majority of the songs are pop-structured stories, as opposed to diary entries. definitely worth checking out, especially if you like catchy guitar-based pop-rock. With a slight edge. Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth stated that it reminded her of a girly '80s record. i think that description sounds accurate. Fun stuff. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
One of my most listened to of 1998, and a personal surprise for me—one of the gems that appeared after low expectation of a strike. (email@example.com)
Honorable mention of 1998. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
2003—Capitol Records—CDP 7243 5 22084 0 1
Liz Phair—vocals, guitar, samples
Corky James—guitars (1, 3, 5, 9)
Victor Indrizzo—drums (1, 3, 5, 9)
The Matrix—additional vocals (1, 3, 5, 9)
The Wizards of Oz—additional vocals (1, 3)
Matt Chamberlin—drums (2, 6)
Mike Elizondo—bass (2, 6)
Michael Penn—guitar (2, 4, 6, 7, 13), bass (4, 7), samples (7), background vocals (13)
Patrick Warren—keyboards (2, 6, 13), piano (7)
Lenny Castro—percussion (2, 6)
Alison Clark—backing vocals (2)
John Sands—drums (4, 7)
R. Walt Vincent—guitar (4), electric guitar (10, 12), harmonica (11), bass (11, 14), guitars, Wurlitzer, electric piano, backing vocals (14)
Wendy Melvoin (Wendy and Lisa)—guitar (6), bass (13)
Jebin Bruni—keyboards (8, 10, 12)
Mario Calire—drums (8, 10, 12)
David Sutton—bass (8, 10, 12)
Buddy Judge—guitar (8), backing vocals (8, 10, 12), electric guitar (10, 12)
Pete Yorn—drums, guitar (11)
Abe Laboriel, Jr.—drums (13)
Mike Stinson—drums (14)
The Matrix, Michael Penn, Liz Phair, R. Walt Vincent
I lived with the Liz Phair record for about six weeks before it came out, as I was fortunate enough to get a preview copy. At that point, of course, there was no furor about her 'selling out'—and I loved the record to pieces, still do. As did my flatmate and my girlfriend.
I take it at face value, mind—it isn't Exile in Guyville, but Tori Amos isn't making Little Earthquakes, Sarah McLachlan isn't making Touch, Jewel isn't making Pieces Of You. I think a lot of this is down to a general unwillingness to allow an artist to change from the sound that you got into.
I'd also agree that the web-based EP is excellent, and a very nice move on her part. My girlfriend thinks some of the tracks sound like Aimee Mann, which makes some sense, considering the producer. (email@example.com)
The new Liz Phair came in this morning, and my coworkers immediately popped it on the overhead sound system. It was good, poppy stuff, sounding rather like the new Jewel on first listen. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
i think the fourth song (i think) on Liz Phair is one of the best songs i've heard this year. i like the online EP a lot; it was worth the extraordinary effort it took to get it out of windows media format and into something i could listen to. i think the first two songs, in particular, are really good. (email@example.com)
I'm finding Liz Phair's new lp boring (ordinary rather than bad). I was looking forward to pop hooks, stuff indie credibility, but merely making the verses and choruses distinct doesn't result in a catchy hook. The guitar sound is dated; it reminds me of middle-American rock from a decade ago, the stuff that never made it outside of the States.
The lyrics are mainly bland because they're so general ('you tell me that good love never dies' type stuff), and there are odd clunkers ('why can't I speak whenever I talk about you?'). The only song I like is 'my bionic eyes', a boastful hard woman number ('I'm a secret weapon') with somewhat sci-fi-ish keyboards.
There's the fun game of re-sequencing the tracks to compare the Matrix and Michael Penn ones, but the album is of a sameness. Ho hum. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The critics have had a good time trashing her latest CD, especially The New York Times and The Chicago Tribune. I bought it anyway. Yes, it's a long way from Exile in Guyville and it might be a bit Avril or Michelle Branch-ish but it's still a good CD. Good, not great. Liz may lose some old fans but she will probably gain some new ones. The first three cuts are the best. It's a little weird, though. After including mostly easy, likable songs there is "H.W.C." (you figure out what that means). This is why the album is listed as having explicit lyrics. That song in itself is OK, not great. For sure "H.W.C." won't get any air time. (MRL220@aol.com)
For Liz, this album wasn't very great, and disappointed fans everywhere. But in the overall spectrum of music in 2003, I liked it. I kind of listened to it like this was a new artist I hadn't heard something from before. (email@example.com)
2005—Capitol Records—CDP 7243 5 77769 2 9
Liz Phair—vocals, guitar, background vocals
Dino Meneghin—electric & acoustic guitar, lap steel, keys, guitar, drum programming, hand percussion
Aaron Sterling—drums and percussion
John Alagia—guitar, keys, B3 organ
Billy Mohler—bass, acoustic bass
John Shanks—bass, guitar, keyboards, background vocals
David Campbell—string arrangement
John Alagia, Dino Meneghin, Joe Zook, John Shanks
somewhere in between her last self-titled album and her earlier work. fairly mainstream rock, but it dispenses with the overly slick pop production of the last album and comes out sounding more authentic. i like it quite a bit. (JoAnn Whetsell)
2010—Rocket Science Ventures—8 11481 01226 6
Highly recommended for fans
Recently, I've encountered a few people who claimed that Funstyle was their #1 album of the year. Furthermore, that it's their favorite Liz Phair album ever, even topping Exile in Guyville. I had written Funstyle off after a single, half-hearted listen through. "Juvenile, embarrassing garbage!," said Paul. So, I was quite shocked to hear of the devoted following this album has gained. Since then, I've given it several more listens and will admit that it's growing on me. Liz is obviously pissed off at her unsupportive record label, and this project is a joyous "screw you!" to them.
Funstyle is more satisfying when listened to from start to finish. When listened to as a whole, you'll enjoy some nicely crafted pop songs ("Satisfied", "Miss September", "And He Slayed Her") as well as amusing, tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating, intentionally bad songs ("Smoke", "Bollywood", "U Hate It"). It's an entertaining train-wreck, and I think that's exactly what Liz was going for. The final track ends with Liz accepting an award as a cheering audience showers her with love. It's ballsy and kinda hilarious. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Liz Phair appears in the films Cherish and Seeing Other People.
Thanks to JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.
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dlw @ sympatico.ca