Polly Harvey proved it. When hit in the face by a provocative lass with a battered guitar and a batch of probing songs that arouse and refresh the part standard indie-slug tunes can’t reach, the teenage lad will tune in.
Such has been the reaction to rising Chicago-based fem-psyche songwriter LIZ PHAIR. Her cooly-delivered, wry and incisive lyrical waxings on sex, self-worth and the eternal male and female tug of wars — thrown out over soothing, mellow guitar strummings on her debut album Exile in Guyville — have catapulted her to MTV-celeb and alternative rock crowd cred notoriety. Snapped up by Matador Records last year, she’s glad to have a home at a ‘cool’ label but eschews any clique; or, for that matter, the indie mentality.
“I can’t stand it,” she cries derisively. “Any crowd, structure or ideology drives me nuts. I can be attracted then ricochet right off it, which is what happened with the riot grrrls. I thought it was really cool when I was reading about it and then I began to get annoyed because it was a scene. It’s then I began to get annoyed because it was a scene. It’s deadening to me, suffocating; no matter how radical it is.”
What distinguishes this 26-year-old art history graduate and erstwhile professional artist is her detail-laced, scene-setting brillance. “Canary”, for example, draws poignant parallel between a docile cagebird and female acquiescence, while “Fuck N’ Run” — dealing with a wham-bam-thankya-m’am scenario — is witty, bitter and hilarious. Most controversial of all, however, is the deceptively angelic “Flower”, apparently a fave among men. “I want to be your blow-job queen,” she hums in monotone — one of the tamer lines from a fantastically explicit paean to full-on female horniness.
“What I write songs about most is what I couldn’t say or didn’t get the chance to say,” she explains. “You’re in the car going home thinking, ‘Dammit, that’s what I wanted to say.’ Or for social reasons you don’t say things. You’re constantly not expressing what you want to say.”
Self-questioning and honest, Liz reveals that another album is looming, and that she frets over her growing media exposure: “My music was a private world for so long: I’m not sure what’s happening to it now it’s public. I don’t really know what I want in this business, I’m not even sure why I’m here.”
Good reasons to stick around, girl.
By Angela Lewis
New Musical Express, July 31, 1993