Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Defense WON'T Rest: Liz Phair's 2003 Album

This is a new series in which I will examine critically or fan derided works of pop acts and defend them because that many people CAN be wrong.

Round 1 of attacking the public and critics for being stupid involves the 2003 self-titled effort released by Liz Phair under Capitol Records. Yes, at one point the "~alt queen~" of the 90s was signed to a major label.
The "appeal" of Liz Phair in the 90s revolves around the alleged greatness that is her debut; Exile in Guyville. The debut was her pretty much doing what dudes in music did, which in this context meant talking about sex with little regard for feelings. The sound of the album was considered "Lo-Fi" which before it became an Instagram filter, described an album sounding "raw" [or not manufactured/processed/"fake".]

Two albums that didn't do shit commercially either later, Whip-Smart and whitechocolatespaceegg, Phair somehow ended up on Capitol Records and was pretty much doing the same thing. That is until word is, Capitol didn't think the record had a hit song. This is the first stop where critics can get the hell off; Capitol is a MAJOR. LABEL. They are used to pimping out artists of questionable quality as long as their songs get some kind of radio play or become moderate successes at the least.
After shelling out more money and introducing to Avril Lavigne enablers/producers, The Matrix, Phair's self-titled album was finally "fit" for release. SPOILER: 1 song was successful and that along with the other song will be used to defend this effort in general.

Want to know how much critics can love an album with tracks titled "Fuck and Run", "Stratford-On-Guy" and "Never Said" [Exile] and hate an album with tracks like "Why Can't I?", "Extraordinary" and "H.W.C."? Look up the reviews for Liz Phair and outside of a 0.0 score from Pitchfork and a review that called this album, "Exile in Avril-ville", critics were fuming that Phair had actually not risked getting dropped by Capitol and made Liz Phair as it had been presented.
However, there are 2 songs and 4 reasons as to why this album should not have gotten the amount of hell it did.

Song 1: "Why Can't I?" - GOD FORBID bubblegum labeled pop/rock can actually pack Daria level sarcastic bite to it. Yes, this only successful song of Liz Phair actually packs a bit of sarcasm to it; [in fact, this song, song #2 here and "Extraordinary" all pack some level of sarcastic wit no other pop act really taps into.] Lyrically most of the song doesn't make sense but a lot of pop music doesn't make any sense outside of "oh I'm just singing this to make a living off of it." This bit of satire as a result went over people's heads as they cried themselves to sleep saying "SHE USED TO BE SO 'Lo-Fi' ZOMG I H8 HER!!!!11!!!1!"

Song 2: "H.W.C." - This track is on the explicit version of the album. Why? It stands for HOT WHITE CUM. That is also part of its sarcastic appeal or at least something critics should've picked up on. Maybe upon finding out that Phair somehow ended up on a major label AND that she was more or less strong-armed into working with a hot for 2003 production team, critics could've interpreted this as her saying "FUCK THIS NOISE" at the new process of making music.

Instead, this bit of satire went RIGHT over music critics' heads and claimed this was proof her "songwriting" had taken a serious nosedive in quality with this album. Keep in mind, critics love her debut album with a track called "Stratford-On-Guy" because apparently THAT'S sharp songwriting. Had critics commented on her songwriting not being deeper jabs at the pop machine, THAT is legitimate criticism of the album. However, most critics can't and won't shut the fuck up about EIG and their arguments are simply invalid.

Reason 1: There was a 4 year or so gap between whitechocolatespaceegg and Liz Phair and a lot had changed. For at least that 3rd album, Phair was married; 4th album? She was divorced and on a major label. SORRYBOUTIT, but change in sound was sort of expected if at a relatively low relevance watch.

Reason 2: Exile in Guyville and its mythos of how fucking great it allegedly is. What's right isn't always popular, but what's popular isn't always right. When spliced in with commentators and being featured at #65 of VH1's 100 Greatest Women in Music, Phair herself pretty much says all EIG was based on was doing what the guys did.
Essentially, Phair found critical acclaim before "poptimism" was coined but it was to where it's still considered sacrilege to not claim EIG is one of the best goddamn fucking albums of all time due to it being a woman being detached from sex with a man and not the other way around. Yes "Never Said" is a cool song, but to continue grading Phair against a debut that defined "poptimism" but without pop appeal ruined any chance for future albums much less an evolution in art to be taken seriously.

Reason 3: Somebody's Miracle flat out sucked. Want to hate a Liz Phair major release from start to finish? Try her follow-up to Liz Phair and see how neutered Adult Contemporary trash is what you get for not knowing what sarcasm is.

Reason 4: Funstyle sucked but had the same sarcastic vibes [I'm hoping] as Liz Phair did but was so disjointed, THAT ruined her career. Yes, even before she had to release this on her website INDEPENDENTLY Phair revealed THESE were the songs that got her ass dropped from Capitol and buried her career in the ground.

The point of it is this; Liz Phair should've been raked for not going deeper against Capitol for insisting that Avril Lavigne enablers have any involvement in her music. Instead, critics who cannot let go of a debut album that sold shit in the 90s [and was allegedly the best thing since sliced bread] judged a book by its cover and missed out on 2 good songs from another uneven album by Liz Phair.

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