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Liz Phair: ‘There’s a bravery to just saying what you really feel’

Liz Phair’s sound takes musical turn in her latest album

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Liz Phair is known for stirring it up a bit with her raw, unbridled lyrics, but she outdid herself with her latest release, which came out last June. She awoke the masses.

By Kyle Dalton
San Antonio Express-News, March 18, 2004

Liz Phair is known for stirring it up a bit with her raw, unbridled lyrics, but she outdid herself with her latest release, which came out last June. She awoke the masses.

Her fourth album, Liz Phair inspired some of the most venomous music reviews in years. Numerous critics panned it, including a New York Times review that called it “an embarrassing form of career suicide.”

The attacks didn’t stop there. Even scores of Phair’s fans turned on her. Many who once championed her as their beloved indie-rock goddess now call her a “sellout”.

For the 36-year-old rocker, who makes her San Antonio debut Sunday at Duke’s Roadhouse, it’s nothing new. She’s been here before. And to be perfectly candid, like a Liz Phair lyric, she doesn’t care.

It all started in 1993 with the release of her first album, Exile in Guyville. The lo-fi, rough-around-the-edges work of art started off slow, but eventually achieved gold status with 500,000 copies sold. Many of those critical of her latest work cite her debut as her best.

Phair, however, doesn’t remember it that way.

Guyville was not a positive experience for me,” she said. “This was supposedly my greatest work and everyone now sort of uses it almost against me as when I was really good. I really felt very hunted.”

“I remember quite a bit of bad local press. I was pretty controversial in Chicago (where she grew up), which was as big as the world was as far as I was concerned at that time. I couldn’t even walk into my local bar without my friends actually taking sides about me. It was horrible.”

A year later, her world expanded dramatically when she made the cover of Rolling Stone with the headline “Liz Phair: A Rock and Roll Star Is Born”. She followed up with Whip-Smart (1994) and whitechocolatespaceegg (1998), both of which received mixed reviews from critics.

Her fans, however, had no mixed feelings on either album. They were unified. To them, her songs were anthems. Her lyrics made sense of their experiences.

Fast forward to 2003. Phair was a changed woman. The mother of a young son and divorced, she was at a different place in her life.

“Once you have a child, you become an adult really quickly. You are basically in the service of someone else’s happiness. I stopped feeling people’s gaze upon me as being important.”

Despite a different view on life, one thing that has remained steady throughout her career is a competitive streak. And like Guyville, it was a driving force behind her latest album.

“I was making that record to show a very small group of people in my neighborhood what I was made of. With this record, I’m trying to show a very small group of people that I’ve worked with what I was made of. Part of me had to show my old manager that he was a lousy old manager and I could do it better. And then it has these big repercussions.”

The repercussions are the result of what the album’s detractors say is a too-polished sound and lyrics replete with catchy pop hooks.

Phair said while the sound may be different, the message is still the same.

“If you like my stuff, it really has more to do with who you are. It’s really people kind of recognizing the independent spirit that’s behind it, or someone that’s going to do what they want. If that’s something that appeals to you, then you like my stuff.”

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