Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Liz Phair - "Liz Phair" (LP Review)

Danette has accused me of being too generous in my reviews, but I think I'm just reviewing my favorite stuff first. But just to be fair, I'll review something that's really, really bad: Liz Phair's fourth LP, 2003's self-titled "Liz Phair".

OK, so that's cheating a bit -- everyone knows this is a terrible LP. Liz Phair hit the scene in 1993 with "Exile in Guyville" and it was a critical blockbuster. Everybody loved Liz: the sexy, brash, irreverent, pottymouthed girl-next-door. The critics loved her so much, in fact, they could never quite forgive her for not continually re-releasing "Exile in Guyville". The analogy to M. Night Shyamalan is obvious.

But in 2003, she hit rock bottom. Eager to trade in her indie cred for something more tangible (she warned us, see: 1998's "Shitloads of Money"), she enlisted the production team The Matrix and strived to write more commercial songs. Not coincidentally, "Liz Phair" was the first LP to not feature re-recorded songs from her early Girly Sound demo tapes. The result is that she ended up imitating her imitators -- she became a 36 year-old Avril Lavigne. She simultaneously failed to gain significant cross over success and yet still managed to alienate her indie fan base. Where her earlier LPs were clever/funny/shocking, "Liz Phair" is stale/calculating/hollow. As David St. Hubbins tells us: "It's such a fine line between stupid, and clever."

The result was scathing reviews that were more clever than the LP itself: the NY Times called it "Liz Phair's Exile in Avril-ville" and Pitchfork Media gave it a 0.0. Ouch. On a 10 point scale, that's like going to 11 the bad way. I tried to think of my own witticism for this review, but the best I could come up with was a couple of Spinal Tap retreads. If she mailed it in, so will I.

I will say that I actually like the songs "Extraordinary" and "Why Can't I?". And I'm further ashamed to say those are two of the four songs that she co-wrote with The Matrix. Since The Matrix only contributed to four songs, two of which I actually like, I have to conclude that Liz bears most of the blame for this LP, where the other 12 songs vary between "bland" and "awful". I could call them out one by one, but what's the point? The less said about them the better. Finally, the video for "Why Can't I?" is terribly clever -- a must see, slightly anachronistic homage to CD jukeboxes and 1960s-era cover art.

Standout songs: "Extraordinary" (different version, from the movie "Raising Helen"), "Why Can't I?"

Skip 'em songs: all of the others. really.

Final score: 3/10. Tough love.

Weird Bonus Link: A video (from spinner.com) that appears to be an apology for the LP, conflating The Matrix production team and the film The Matrix. Maybe it seemed funny on paper, but it just makes things worse.

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