By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Liz Phairis no Exile.It isn’t the kind of music that moves me, particularly — it’s too familiar, too jaunty, too uncomplicated. I’ll sing along to “Extraordinary” when I hear it and think it’s sweet, because in it Phair nails that nagging if-only-you’d-get-to-know-me-you’d-love-me feeling almost as perfectly as that Maya Angelou e-mail that’s been making the rounds the last few years, the one about how beautiful all women are on the inside. But I won’t play that song again after I’ve written this, because it doesn’t cut deep enough — it’s the next episode, the you’ll-dump-me-when-you-get-to-know-me part,that strikes me as more worth the agony of a song, if a little too hopeless to fit into a pop lyric. On the other hand, “Little Digger” — a song on the new record with a sappy melody buried in hyperproduced electronics — keeps calling me back and laying me flat. She wrote it for her son, the little boy who’s trying hard these days to bond with the new man in his mom’s bed, even as he wishes it weren’t quite true:
You put your trucks up on the bed next to him
So he can get a better look at them
“This one’s my favorite one, this one you can’t have,
“I got it from my dad”
Phair is just as honest as she ever was. She’s just being honest about a very different life.
3. She Wants To Be Mesmerizing Too
Liz Phair opens on a hat trick of shiny, hook-heavy girl anthems — three songs that announce Liz Phair’s intentions for her fourth album, clearly her audacious grab at chart-topping stardom. These songs and the rest that follow on Liz Phair are already pissing off fans who feel that their indie hero, rather that making an artistic leap, is taking a dive. But Liz Phair is closer in spirit to Guyvillethan anything she’s done since her debut disc.
That record was appropriation as calling card: The old boys won’t let me rock, says Guyville, so I’ll remake one of their touchstones. This time Phair aims at a music world that, 10 years and two more albums later, still overlooks her in favor of what are essentially dumbed-down, tarted-up versions of herself. Meanwhile, those who find pathetic Phair’s bid for a higher profile are missing the point: She’s always wanted to be a star — taking on the Stones isn’t exactly a retiring move — and, furthermore, it seems to be working. When’s the last time she generated so much press?
This is all aside from the simple fact that the album is good — solid, worthy pop. There are great songs, good ones, some clunkers — which could just as easily be said about the White Stripes record. And under the candy glazing, it’s all Liz Phair, from the talky lyrics and chunky phrasing, to the smart-ass larks (a la-dee-da tune about “hot white cum”) and unladylike declarations (“See me licking my lips, need a primitive fix” she sings on the hot-button single “Extraordinary”). What the slick productions do is finesse what were long seen as her weaknesses, namely her shallow vocal range and flat arrangements. Frankly, Phair sounds good all prettied up and backed by punchy guitars, although it would have been nice if her hotshot producers could have held back a little, especially on the stiff shot of younger-man lust “Rock Me,” which gets buried in androidy effects. If I were 11, this would be my very favorite record, my entr√©e to tougher things. As a grown-up, I can groove more honestly on Phair’s catchy ode to anticipation, “Why Can’t I?,” knowing that both she and I ken the vicissitudes of romantic expectation a lot better than we did way back when. I’d put it on to clean the house, and those anthems sound great in the car — breathless lyrics, sing-along choruses, calibrated layers and all.
-Hazel Dawn Dumpert
4. Extraordinary Supergoddess
Exile in Guyville, Liz Phair’s powder-keg debut, famously framed the 20-something feminine mystique as a smart, sassy rejoinder to the Rolling Stones’ swaggering machismo; Exile’s songs, which illuminated bitchy scene politics and a crass menagerie of sexual preferences in a dorm-room lingua franca that still resonates today, proffered an exacting lyrical reflection of their lo-fi, demo-quality sonics. Yet the secret strength of Phair’s writing has always been the inconsolable melancholy underpinning its tough-girl braggadocio; when Phair tells a boyfriend she wants to be his “blowjob queen,” it’s empowering and pathetic at the same time.
An L.A.-based (well, Manhattan Beach) single mom now, Phair sought outside help from pro production team the Matrix, Pete Yorn enabler R. Walt Vincent and studio-pop perfectionist Michael Penn in making the album, and their handiwork shines: These 14 tunes are the aural opposite of lo-fi, packed with ringing guitar hooks, arena-sized distortion and oppressively precise drumming, glazed with the kind of radio-ready sheen Clear Channel execs dream of. And Phair’s cleaned up her language — excepting the intentionally button-pushing (yet strangely earnest) “H.W.C.,” which big-ups the skin-care virtues of “hot white cum” — sticking instead to time-honored questions like “Why can’t I breathe whenever I think about you?”