Monday, July 28, 2003

'Liz Phair'

Liz Phair’s new self-titled album ["Liz Phair"] hasn’t left my car CD player since I bought it last week. It truly is an amazing little CD but one has to wonder if it can survive the extremely bad reviews and almost zero airplay so far in its early life.
The bad reviews come from Phair’s [and probably management’s and the record label’s] decision to work with the songwriting/production team known as The Matrix. The Martix is Lauren Christy, Scott Spock, and Graham Edwards, the people behind the success of girl rocker Avril Lavigne ["Complicated," "Sk8ter Boi"]. Their production is squeaky clean with a sharp edge; the guitars roar - but reek of the digital cleansing relegated to the Britney Spears and N’Snycs of the world and not rockers with street cred like Phair.
Of course, the perception that Phair is an indie rock goddess is a little far from the truth. Sure, she is the starlet of the indie press and geeks have been in love with her for more than a decade. But major labels have been releasing and distributing her music since 1994’s "Whip-Smart" and Matador, her previous label, is a pretty big indie. And if she is sick of living on chump change and wants to make some serious money, like Lavigne, who can blame her after all these years? She is 36, with a young son. There is no prestige in living poorly. But back to the album.
"Liz Phair" has a lot of her standard story telling songs on this album like "Little Digger," which imagines her son’s jealousy with a new lover. However, surprisingly, the most powerful songs are the ones produced by the slick Matrix team. The songs tend to be sex-fused rockers like "Rock Me" and "Love/Hate," in an obvious attempt to emphasize the sex sells mentality. "Rock Me" is a cynical look at quickies with a younger man; while "Love/Hate" analyzes the war between the sexes and trying times. She also says the f- word a lot, which she has done in the past, and is kinda cool coming from an "older woman." Liz’s voice is distinct; fragile when it needs to be and strong on other moments. Opener "Extraordinary" starts the set off with a pretty catchy and sarcastic chorus:
"… I am extraordinary, if you’d ever get to know me, I am extraordinary, I am just your ordinary, average everyday sane/psycho, super-goddess …"
The production skills of Michael Penn on some songs also add appeal to the album because once you come down from the slick banging of the Matrix songs, you need a little more of the old Phair touch to clear the head.
The album’s first single, "Why Can’t I," is a strong song but a little mellow for a first single. "Rock Me" would have been a better first single - with its "Rock me all night" sex chant, with "Why Can’t I" as a follow up; similar to how Alanis Morrisette successfully followed up her powerful "You Oughta Know" with the more mellow "Ironic."
But hey, what do I know? I am just a music and Liz Phair fan, hah. But seriously, this is a good album and worthy of better comment and airplay. Here’s hoping that Liz Phair gets the big prize.

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