Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Liz Phair

  • Exile in Guyville [Matador, 1993] A
  • Whip-Smart [Matador, 1994] **
  • Juvenilia [Matador, 1995] A-
  • Whitechocolatespaceegg [Matador/Capitol, 1998] A
  • Liz Phair [Capitol, 2003] A
  • Somebody's Miracle [Capitol, 2005] ***
  • Funstyle [Rocket Science Ventures, 2010] *
  • Soberish [Chrysalis, 2021] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Exile in Guyville [Matador, 1993]
She's a rebel, and if all goes well, also a pathfinder, which isn't certain mainly because the acts and attitudes that make her a rebel are so normal. Her number of partners may be over toward the right side of the bell curve. She may have commitment problems. But for at least two decades, bohemian women of a certain age have displayed this much desire, independence, bitchiness, self-doubt, and general weirdness--while continuing to pin down the unmanly emotional apercus that make "Dance of the Seven Veils" and "Divorce Song" so gender-specific. They can behave this way if they want--they're just not supposed to come out of the closet about it. And while Phair knows more than enough about tunes and guitars to challenge the taboo, the weirdness level of her spare, intuitive, insinuating demos-plus is bohemia-specific. Which is apt for sure. But not necessarily pathfinding. A

Whip-Smart [Matador, 1994]
"I made sure it wasn't shitty, but didn't worry about whether it was, like, A+"--L. Phair, Billboard, 8/6/94 ("Whip-Smart," "Shane") **

Juvenilia [Matador, 1995]
One Whip-Smart remix, one new wave cover, and one undeveloped new song no more fascinating than the five old Girly Sound demos that are why any noncollector should hear this CD. The hands-down keepers are the dirty joke once removed "California" and the cowboy-Iggy "South Dakota," but all are a respite from her persona, her career, her sacred mission--none of which she chose, exactly, but none of which she's shown any knack for averting. Here she's the least she deserves to be--a fecund oddball so full of ideas that creaky execution is part of the excitement. In other words, an important minor artist. A-

Whitechocolatespaceegg [Matador/Capitol, 1998]
In which a girl-rock shooting star seeks recognition as nothing more but nothing less than the imaginative, eccentric singer-songwriter she always was. Her perspective remains distinctly female even when she's impersonating men. But her prim, outspoken raunch is down to a few hints, none as memorable as "Go On Ahead"'s resigned analysis of a marriage strained by the birth of a child, or "Girls' Room"'s dream of high school, or "Uncle Alvarez"'s con man hanging from the family tree. This isn't an indie babe's album, or a blowjob queen's either. It's the work of an artist testing her capacity for fictional scenarios, of an upper-middle-class woman well past worrying why she fucks and runs--in public, at least. Its spare, halting, impractical, distinct, blatantly hooked sound honors the home demo over the bar raveup because it was invented by someone who shares an indigenous habitat with record geeks--the kind of bedroom that's longer on stereo equipment than ceiling mirrors. A

Liz Phair [Capitol, 2003]
See: Shining Some Glory. A

Somebody's Miracle [Capitol, 2005]
In pop, when the production's solid and the voice a little less so, the songs had better be on the money ("Got My Own Thing," "Table for One"). ***

Funstyle [Rocket Science Ventures, 2010]
Not a good sign when the skits stand out and your old demos are a welcome add-on ("Bang! Bang!" "White Babies") *

Soberish [Chrysalis, 2021]
In her first new music since 2010, Phair fashions 13 sturdy and economical if slightly sub-tuneful pop songs from the precisely enunciated affections and anxieties of a serious serial monogamist. In the boldest she assumes the voice of fellow greater Chicagoan Laurie Anderson sick of Lou's Warhol stories: "Oh Superman, I've done as much as I can/You're not the life of the party." In the catchiest, a welcome snatch of "I Want It That Way" softens hard truths about how much he'll miss what they had. In the drunkest, she admits that love at first sight is scary but wishes they could stop "dicking around" even so. A-

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