Thursday, February 26, 2009

February 26: Liz Phair, "Exile In Guyville"

Artist: Liz Phair
Album: Exile In Guyville
Year: 1993
Label:: Matador

In the early 1990's, most female performers were sitting behind pianos or singing mellow, folky songs with an acoustic guitar. Then, in 1993, the world was introduced to the hard rocking, sassy, suggestive Liz Phair. After releasing her debut record, Exile In Guyville, countless imitators flooded the music scene. She can never be duplicated, and the album remains to this day one of the most significant albums ever recorded.

It's no secret that the title of the record is a small reference to an Urge Overkill song, but a VERY large reference to the Rolling Stones' masterpiece Exile On Main Street (which we'll get to later this year). However, many people have made the case (and it's a good one) that it goes beyond simply a common title, and that Exile In Guyville is a "song by song" response to the Stones' record. Listening to the lyrics on both records, many songs seem to clearly be at odds with one another. Perhaps the most clear example is if you set the feel and lyrics of the Stones' "Let It Loose" against those of Phair's "Flower." The lo-fi production on the album as well as the variety of sounds and moods on Exile In Guyville evoke the spirits of the Stones classic.

Lyrically, Exile In Guyville remains one of the most brutally honest and revealing records ever recorded. Phair smashed down walls that had long held back female artists as she was not at all hesitant to get as graphic about taboo subjects such as sex and love as her male counterparts had throughout history. While many critics felt that her lyrics were perhaps too risque, the fact is, male singers had been singing similar sentiments and "worse" for decades. The reality was, few females had been as blunt and as well written as Phair. Her clear, pointed, powerful delivery demanded you pay attention to her and she had the musical skills to back up her unsurpassed lyrics. In many ways, her complete openness can be seen as the beginning of the female musical uprising which would eventually culminate in Lilith Fair. Though content-wise, she shares little with a majority of the acts that peformed at Lilith, it was very much the spirit of female equality and empowerment in the music world that she began with Exile In Guyville.

Exile In Guyville showcases Phair and her band's ability to create amazingly relaxed and beautiful moods as well as the fact that, in her heart, Phair was as rock and roll as anyone. Even taking into account the fact that the record is a very lo-fi production, the songs all shine and have all been perfectly produced. Whether it is the oddly echoing piano of "Canary" or the crunching guitars on "Johnny Sunshine," each song has its own individually superb feel. It is quite impressive just how much noise the band can make, considering that there are only three people playing. Phair's boundless vocal range also helps to push Exile In Guyville into the stratosphere of recordings as it enables the music to have much more diversity. Whether she is singing softly with her guitar, or yelling over the band, each and every note she sings is absolutely brilliant.

Somewhere between Debbie Harry and Alanis Morrisette, female singers (for the most part) seemed to fade into musical obscurity amidst the fury of hair metal. Most female singers were either singing softly, or making predictably mediocre pop songs. Thankfully, Liz Phair destroyed the paradigm and pumped new life into what was becoming a stagnant music scene. Her epic debut record, Exile In Guyville rewrote the rule book for female performers and served as a warning to the world that she was a force to be reckoned with lyrically and musically. Though she has only released four albums since, she remains a living legend in the music world and Exile In Guyville remains a cornerstone of rock music.

Standout tracks: "6'1"," "Fuck And Run," and "Flower."

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