Listening to Liz Phair’s latest, self-released album this morning, I realized, “I payed $7.99 for this.” This, from the woman who gave us Exile in Guyville and (let’s face it) a stream of steadily deteriorating albums after that. The woman who, despite a respectable indie following that favored her slightly atonal, spot-on lyrics about sex and relationships, decided to go the major label route to snatch her piece of the angsty girl pie back from Avril Lavigne’s sugary clutches. She pretty much fell on her face in the process, but I was willing to hope that she could recapture that simple irreverence that made us like her in the first place.
Instead, we get Fun Style, in which Phair lays bare her experience with the record industry. I find it both hilarious (“I don’t know John Mayer. I met him.”) and disturbing (You’re being a penis. Colada that is.”), and there’s enough references to rejection that I’m worried she’s about to be homeless. In between, there are tracks that hearken back to both her grating top-40-ish folly and quality, quirky reflection. However, that distinctive, bass-less guitar plucking has been replaced by an over-produced mess. What’s happening here?
A glimpse of Phair’s website reveals that there’s cause for panic. Still, I’m wondering whether there is brilliance in the chaos. After all, my edition of Fun Style also has the Girlysound Tapes, Phair’s demo that landed her the Guyville deal over 15 years ago. From her lyrical spoofs (“Miss Mary Mack,” “Wild Thing”) to her shocking, brilliant turns of phrase (“black market white baby dealer”), this is the Liz Phair I initially got into, and I so greedily relish the Girlysound Tapes that I’m willing to tolerate Fun Style, warts and all. Once again, Liz Phair has gotten my attention, and my cash.