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Phair: style change gradual

In all phairness, the woman’s music is totally about the words

Former indie queen find a more mature sound on new album

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Her evolution continues with her latest album

By John Benson
The Vindicator, October 27, 2005

CLEVELAND — For Liz Phair, there is no before and after.

However, for her loyal fans, it’s a different story. The once indie rock queen, who created some of the ’90s more intriguing lo-fi rock, including her definitive debut Exile in Guyville, seemed to make a conspicuous leap at commercial accessibility a few years ago with her 2003 self-titled album, leaving fans who had been with her during the lean years feeling betrayed.

“It really wasn’t a whole changing of the style,” said Phair, calling from a tour stop in Chicago. “It was gradual. It just made a really good news story. Like [1998’s] Whitechocolatespaceegg certainly doesn’t sound like Guyville. So I think it made a really big story because I worked with the Matrix.”

Well, she’s correct in assuming that working with the same folks, that being the Matrix production team, who helped craft Avril Lavigne’s mainstream pop sound did catch fans off guard a bit. Not to mention the Phair hit single “Why Can’t I”, being heard all over soccer mom radio — alongside Lavigne, Sheryl Crow and Pink no less.

“[The backlash] was surprising when it happened but we kind of made it through it and I think just the live shows are such a perfect antidote because then it really is just you,” Phair said. “And old fans kept coming so it worked out OK.”

Still changing

The evolution of Liz Phair continues on her latest album Somebody’s Miracle, which, similar to her eponymous release, further explores life as a divorced mother rediscovering her independence. Phair said her maturation as a singer-songwriter began at Oberlin College, which she graduated from in 1990.

Admittedly, when she first arrived at the Ohio school she was a mainstream girl looking to have a good time. Instead, her eyes were opened to the world of indie rock by Oberlin’s burgeoning scene. In fact, she cites a road trip to Cleveland to see Sonic Youth at Peabody’s DownUnder in the late ’80s as having a profound influence on her music.

“I think Oberlin had a lot to do with [my songwriting],” Phair said. “There were just bands everywhere and a real appreciation of music. It both fueled a sense of ‘Yes, you can do this’ but also there was a sense of the politics that go into being a feminist. It sort of shaped me in terms of what art is.”

Despite having graduated 15 years ago, Phair hasn’t been back to her alma mater since. She says she’s “not a big reunion-ey person.” There’s also the notion of getting 50 more e-mail addresses from people she hasn’t seen in years and won’t have time to reconnect with that is keeping her away. Ultimately, her life revolves around her career and 8-year-old son.

Right now, Phair is heavy into touring, including a Friday show at The Odeon Concert Club. As for her expected set list, it varies nightly.

“It’s just being fair,” Phair said. “It’s like now I have five records so I have to give enough room to everybody. I pull from Exit to GuyvilleWhitechocolatespaceeggWhip-SmartGirlysound [pre-solo career band], Liz PhairCome and Get It EP, Somebody’s Miracle. So, I think it’s just democracy at work.”

She paused and added, “And I get very bored, very quickly.”

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