By Everett True
Melody Maker, October 30, 1993
Liz Phair is the latest female obsession of the male US critics. Maybe they’re attracted by the contradictions of her full-on sexuality, by the way she can sing about wanting “to be your blowjob queen” (“Flower”) and then, without losing face, ask “Whatever happened to a boyfriend / The kind of guy who makes love if he’s in it?” (“Fuck And Run”).
Maybe they’re attracted to her music’s sparse, simple instrumentation and almost anthem-catchy hooks. Maybe they’ve caught sight of her frequently provocative photos and chose to favour any woman who pushes her body first.
Whatever it is, she’s certainly been tipped for stardom enough times and compared to the handful of female singer / songwriters who have recently been allotted media prominence. Which, as Liz and her band suggest themselves, borders on sexism.
“There’s this triumvirate: Juliana Hatfield, me and Polly Harvey,” the singer begins. “There are obvious comparisons, sure, but it’s almost as if we’re being hazed for a sorority. Like, one of us is going to be allowed in, but only one. It’s a little insidious the way we’re pitted against each other.”
“It’s pretty much straight sexism,” continues her guitarist Casey. “You don’t see critics pitting Kurt Cobain versus Evan Dando. But then again they’re not women, so they don’t have to compete against each other and they don’t need to be measured by each other’s standards.”
The double album, “Exile In Guyville”, recorded in the summer of ’92 in Chicago, took its length from her mainmen, The Rolling Stones’ “Exile On Main Street”, and its title from fellow Chicago-ites, Urge Overkill’s “Guyville”. (Indeed, Urge’s National Kato took the cover shot of Liz naked under a fur coat.) The title is a reference to meathead male attitudes.
In her songs, Liz takes on characters. They create themselves out of whatever emotions need to be expressed. It’s kinda like dreaming. Whatever’s going through your body that isn’t excreted during the day — that’s going to be the genesis of the song. Factual details shape the construct. Emotions come because they need to be released.
It’d be a mistake to see the songs as autobiographical, though. Look, for example, at “Flower”. Liz sings, “I wanna fuck you ’til your dick turns blue.” She’s playing a character. Maybe some of it is her. But not all. Look at the lines “Fuck and run / Fuck and run / Even when I was 17”. Liz admits she was a late virgin — “one of those tomboy types who are really a girl.”
Her first obsession was to write her own classic Christmas song, her own “Greensleeves”. That went on for two, three years. Boys followed. Immediately. Always in terms of saying to the boy in a song what she couldn’t at school.
Time for a word with Liz again.
I notice you appear on the sleeve in various stages of undress — and some of your recent press shots have certainly been sexually provocative. Why?
It just seemed natural,” she replies, disingenuously, “and really cool. A big heavy coat with nothing on underneath. We were just mucking around doing photo booth shots, and they picked it as the album cover. Then, suddenly, I’m contributing to a larger phenomenon where every woman in the media is topless — why, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a weird way of asserting yourself, or trying to harken a new era of that Sixties / Seventies thing of debauchery and looseness.”
So is Liz Phair gonna be successful? Let’s leave the final word to Brad Wood, her co-producer and band member.
“Whenver I hear Liz’s music,” he reveals, “the first image which comes into my mind is that of dollar bills.”
‘Exile In Guyville’ is out now on Matador (through Revolver)
Featured Image: Liz and her Merrie Men. (Photo: Pat Pope)