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“Funstyle”: Liz Phair’s journey through the genres

Tough questions for Liz Phair

Liz Phair: “It’s music. We’re not talking about cancer.”

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Liz Phair? Oh, I’ve heard of her, but I can’t actually name any song by her.”

By Eli Heller
New University, October 26, 2010

“Liz Phair? Oh, I’ve heard of her, but I can’t actually name any song by her.”

It is likely that Phair’s sixth album will change this.

In a mix of rock, funk, electronic, vocal and acoustic tracks, “Funstyle” offers a sound for everyone. An eclectic mix of feel-good songs, the album is a great listen for a drive to a party or a fun rainy day inside. Phair has a very distinctive sound to her voice, and her creativity keeps you anticipating more new sounds and voices as the album goes on. She keeps you guessing what new sounds she will play with next.

Phair incorporates many different sounds and spoken words in the background of some of the tracks, including the opening track “Smoke,” which has voice-overs and bizarre sound effects in it. This song, as well as others, makes a statement about society as well. The voice-overs are recordings of made-up characters enforcing social norms and of Phair herself discrediting these comical, ridiculously-portrayed characters. It’s a very entertaining addition to an already catchy song.

In the song “You Should Know Me,” some of the instrumentation is electronic. However, Phair’s voice is not electronically enhanced or altered in any way, making for a nice contrast between her singing and the music in the background. The song has a very pretty melody and she sings it beautifully. This relaxing tune encompasses pleasant harmonies with Phair’s background singers and is much more lyrical than the rest of the album.

“Miss September” begins with a very interesting lyric about Adam and Eve: “… I’ve never seen Adam do anything I understand.” The song is about Phair’s acceptance of her lack of understanding for the way men operate, and her love for a man regardless. The song’s simple drum beats and basic guitar rhythms are a nice change of pace from the busy rest of the album. This is just one of the many sides of herself that Liz Phair shows on this album.“My My,” the only funk track and only tune with horns on “Funstyle,” has a great groove and invokes the sounds of Earth Wind and Fire.

The only genre Phair fails to replicate in this album is rap. Her rapping on “Bollywood” sounds very forced and unnatural. Though it is nice to hear someone rap about something other than sex or crime, rap simply does not fit in with Phair’s unique style.

Phair closes the album with “U Hate It,” a tune mocking anyone who hates her music without reason. She essentially gives the finger to her haters, suggesting that she doesn’t care what anyone thinks, and that she will keep making her music despite what anyone says. Phair has been criticized in the past for leaving her Indie beginnings to produce more mainstream-style songs, and because this album resembles some of her early Indie music, “U Hate It” is a perfect closer for this eclectic album.

Though iTunes categorizes “Funstyle” as “pop,” it is so much more than this. Phair incorporates so many different styles into 11 songs that it is impossible to place this album under the umbrella of any particular genre. That is one reason why “Funstyle” is such a special album.

Phair’s incorporation of humor and satire in her music is quite an accomplishment. Each song is very different and the album overall is truly unpredictable.  Liz is already in her early 40s but still manages to keep her sound fresh. Her vocals are very strong and you can understand every word she is singing. With such a clear and distinctive voice, it makes sense that she has released six albums, even if not all of them have been popular.

If you are looking for an album with catchy rhythms and feel-good songs, “Funstyle” is an album worth checking out.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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