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All’s Phair

Who does Liz Phair think she is?

Is all Phair in rock ‘n’ roll?

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A former indie princess isn’t making apologies for her grown-up sound.

By Jenny Egan
Girlfriends, November 2005

With 1993’s Exile in Guyville, Liz Phair helped map out the new, post-grunge musical landscape: her guitar was rough and ready but accessible; she was messy, sincere, but identifiable. That record sold 200,000 copies and made the image of Phair, screaming from beneath a hoodie but cute enough to take home, an icon.

By 2003, Phair had a new label, a new producer (Swedish pop-team extraordinaire the Matrix), and clean new sound. Critics and fans labeled her a sell-out and declared her career dead. But the self-titled album sold moderately well and Phair plugged forward; the result is her newest endeavor, Somebody’s Miracle, which she says is based loosely on Stevie Wonder’s classic album Songs in the Key of Life.

“I’m very academic in my mind,” says Phair of the approach. “It’s a fruitful way for me to be inspired… but usually if the record isn’t right to the core of your soul, it falls apart. Songs in the Key of Life never fell apart for me. It only got richer and more brilliant.”

Fans obsessed with the Guyville era of Phair — which the artist says was “by far the darkest time of my life” — will have to shift gears for Miracle. The new work delves into painful subjects, but she’s had it with what she calls “the whole school of suffer-for-your-art, do that to yourself, do the drugs, fuck up your relationships, stay on the edge for your art. If my life falls apart, I’m sure the critics would be ecstatic, but I’m not hoping for it.”

Instead, Phair is focused on mellowing out and raising her son Nick, now eight years old. “I’ve accepted that Nick is going to get priority. It’s a big breaking of the wild horse. Motherhood really does break some part of you.”

“I remember my mother acting like this when I was in my late teens and I hated her for it. I was like, ‘Take a stand!’ It wasn’t until I got older that I realized you can’t make that call that often in life. You’ve done too many things that are bad; you’ve seen too many bad people do good. I understand now that you can exist in the grays and it is authentic.”

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