REVIEW: Liz Phair: s/t
Liz Phair: Liz Phair [Capitol, 2003]
Two words? MILF rock
When Liz Phair announced that she would be teaming up with songwriting svengalis The Matrix for her major-league debut, music critics everywhere sharpened their reviewing pens. Pitchforkmedia weighed in on the album with a rare, 0.0 rating. The New York Times said the album was a form of "career suicide." Listening to her fourth full-length well after all the bluster of Liz Phair "selling out," I can say this – it doesn't break new ground for awful as Pitchfork claims.
What it is, however, is a dull exercise in radio pop that sounds strikingly similar to countless other CDs by faceless teenage pop singers. Sounding somewhere between the summery pop of Sheryl Crow and the pouty adolescence Avril Lavigne, the most troubling aspect of this release is that Liz Phair has nothing to say. Her groundbreaking debut, Exile In Guyville deconstructed the Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street. Later albums addressed fame and motherhood. Now, in a bid for sales, popularity and fame, Phair has opted for the most ambivalent of literal-but-vague subject-matter. There is nothing wrong with wanting to court mainstream attention, but what makes this ultimately so depressing is that it comes at the expense of a talented songwriter's, well, talent.
It's difficult to imagine any mid-thirties, radio-pop-loving woman who would want to listen to this. Alanis Morissette, Bonnie Raitt, and Joan Osbourne are all radio friendly acts that offer more musical and lyrical depth than what is presented here. Though some critics have offered that this album "is good for what it is" – it really isn't. Phair's carefully calculated bid for mainstream attention seems to have missed the mark for whatever audience she's trying to capture.
Perhaps as a final, desperate stab at attention, Phair even includes the much talked about "H.W.C." (Hot White Cum). Insulting? No. Degrading? Somewhat. Stupid? Incredibly. Lyrically describing the health qualities of semen, this failed reclamation of a male fantasy falls as flat on its face as the rest of the album.
It's a shame that Liz Phair feels to acheive success means to completely change her musical style. Tourmates the Flaming Lips have embraced both critical and commerical success, yet remained true to their tripped out vision. Exile In Guyville was a resounding success, selling more than 200,000 copies, and primed Phair for fame with its original songs and lyrics. Either insecurity or poor advice from record executives has guided Phair to her lowest point in years. If she wants to return from the pure disgrace of this album, I would advise a long break and careful reassessment of the musical values which she holds dear.