I bet you fall in bed too easily with the beautiful girls who are shyly brave and you sell yourself as a man to save but all the money in the world is not enough
October 24, 2007 1:49 AM   Subscribe

Liz Phair has gone from indie rock's princess to indie rock's bête noire over the last few years. But way, way before she was any of those, she was a just another post-collegiate twentysomething who had moved back into her parent's house and who recorded odes to Speed Racer and parodies of "Wild Thing" into her 4 track tape recorder to pass the time.

I'd be stupid to suggest that Liz Phair is a name that carries a lot of currency these days (though if pressed, I'd defend her catalog up to and including her self-titled album,) but I'd imagine that this relic from early-90s zine culture would still be of interest to people. Legend has it that these recordings, which make up the three Girly Sound tapes, were recorded on a dare and given to only two people. They found their way to the head of Matador, and eventually Phair would rework many of these tracks into what would become Exile in Guyville.

Phair has never formally released these demos, with the exception of a tossed-off EP in the mid-90s that included a couple of tracks. She revisits these songs occasionally, though less now than early in her career. There is certainly a noticeable difference between this and any of her properly recorded material. These demos include many rambling, Dylan-esque songs that top 7 minutes, many songs which sound like they were recorded as a lark, and some radically different early versions of songs she would later include on her studio albums. Personally, I like the one about White Baby Dealers. And the Batmobile one.
posted by Weebot (55 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Poor Liz Phair is too old to be channeling Avril Lavigne.

I saw her play when Exit to Guyville came out. She was so nervous she could hardly sing. great album though.
posted by cogneuro at 1:54 AM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

She got even worse as a live performer, which is a pretty incredible feat. And over the years, she destructed nearly everything that was compelling about her music and persona, seemingly on purpose, in order to become a bigger star. This tactic failed miserably, obviously, with a neat arc in which each album sold in inverse proportion to how much money was spent on it - until the last one, which the label and most people knew wouldn't sell, so support was withdrawn.

A lot of the "legend" is false too. Plenty of people (well, more than two!) had those tapes and heard them, and quite a lot of tracks on the second and third albums were actually recorded during "Guyville" and used to pad out otherwise weak later albums, with the credits changed to obscure the fact somewhat. Almost all of "Guyville" was recorded before Matador entered the picture, and if you subtract all the stuff she wrote before she signed to Matador, it would be astonishing how much her songwriting just . . . died. In a very short time indeed.

I've got the mystical third "real" Girlysounds tape (mostly unbootlegged) and a fourth one with about nine songs, plus a tape of five or six unreleased "Guyville" tunes. Many of these unheard tunes were reworked for the second and third albums, with a song or two on the fourth one, too. A couple of the other ones are pretty cool. The real story (sadly) will never be told, but it's pretty interesting.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:10 AM on October 24, 2007 [5 favorites]

So many people are going to come in here and go "augh it's horrible!" I would bet lots of money on that. However, the Liz Phair I like is this one, some chick who is going to Oberlin who recorded some stuff in her room on some tape which just happened to make it to me.

But yeah, everything that you said, Dee Xtrovert. Everything since seems like vague grasping to make it feel like it used to, but it never works. She probably should have stopped there.

Though my life would be less happy with no "Baby Got Going" in it. I wonder who wrote it.
posted by blacklite at 2:17 AM on October 24, 2007

And the very first car...
posted by blacklite at 2:19 AM on October 24, 2007

I actually liked Whip-Smart a lot....it was a really solid album.

I won't badmouth her.
posted by GavinR at 2:33 AM on October 24, 2007

Dee: I had figured the stuff about the tapes were apocryphal, hence the legend qualifier. The tapes were bootlegged pretty extensively, especially after Guyville, as far as my cursory internet research tells me.

One thing I would quibble with you about is that she padded her third album with tracks that were recorded during the Guyville sessions. I can believe that being the case for Whip-Smart; that album sounds like what Guyville might be with a bit more studio trickery. However, the production and performances on whitechocolatespaceegg are a different universe from those first two albums. Unless she had learned proper singing technique while recording Guyville AND had kept the recordings where she sang properly squirreled away for five years, I don't see any of those tracks being Guyville leftovers. I wouldn't doubt that the songs were written around that time, however.

That said, I actually think whitechocolatespaceegg and Whip-Smart are wonderful albums.
posted by Weebot at 2:40 AM on October 24, 2007

I read about her in a fanzine, was living at home too, trapped in an ill-paid job. The zine said you could send $5 bucks, and she'd mail you a cassette full of strange, swirling, trapped-after-college songs. I put my Abe in a SASE, waited 10 months, then saw Exile In Guyville in a record store. My mail probably arrived just as Matodor was picking her up. Was another six months before I was able to get out of the house. To less acclaim.
posted by bendybendy at 2:47 AM on October 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Weebot, much of "Guyville" was deliberately messed with to sound "low-fi," so it's deceptive. Some of the earlier-recorded tracks on "whitechocolate . . ." had vocals and (less commonly) other parts rerecorded where the fundamental backing track was from years before. I probably exaggerated the "quite a lot of the tracks" thing relative to the third album, but there is truth to it.

I've got a studio-made cassette from early into the "Guyville" recordings, with several of the final album's tracks (ie, the same recordings) in much better fidelity with more commercial mixes than what were ultimately released. (Also freaky oddities like a reggae cover!) The decision was apparently made during the mixing stage to have "Exile" sound much more like the Girlysound stuff than it would have otherwise . . . so "whitechocolate . . ." wasn't as much a sonic improvement inherently as one would think. Some of the genuinely more primitive "Exile" material ended up on "Whip-Smart." For instance, "Chopsticks" was the first tune she recorded in an actual studio.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:03 AM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

At least two of the whitechocolatespaceegg tracks are re-recorded versions of Girlysounds tracks. You'll note "Polyester Bride" and "Money" on the Girlysounds site; "Shitloads of Money" is the reworked version of the second track. By this point in her career, though, it wouldn't have made any sense to use the old tracks as-is, and the difference between the old and the new is astounding. Normally this sort of thing isn't a big deal; artists take old, old demos all the time and turn them into album tracks years later (one of my favourite Mary Timony tracks, "Return to Pirates," is one such beast).

It's only of perceived consequence here because her material took a nosedive with the following album. I guess there aren't a whole lot of fans of whitechocolatespaceegg either, though I think it's pretty keen.
posted by chrominance at 3:07 AM on October 24, 2007

That "trapped at home" thing was a bit of a myth too; Liz lived in apartments in Chicago for a couple of years before Matador picked her up, where she made her music when she felt like it and was more or less supported by her parents. So I am told by one of her roommates.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:08 AM on October 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

I love it when mythbusting introduces myths of its own. I like Liz Phair, but I can't say I was ever invested heavily enough that the overproduced stuff felt like a disappointment. I mean, it was no Fleming and John, but it was still fun...
posted by verb at 4:48 AM on October 24, 2007

Liz Phair has one hell of a crappy voice, always has, but Guyville was great, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Whatever you think of her eponymous album, it still was miles better than anything Avril, Britney, Jessica or Ashlee has done, and it was pretty much in that same genre. Probably not worth a lot, but she clearly knew what she was going for on that record, and nailed.
posted by psmealey at 4:59 AM on October 24, 2007

posted by psmealey at 4:59 AM on October 24, 2007

Liz Phair was indie's princess, though? Please. She's a mere dot on the map compared to the work of Miss Polly Jean Harvey.
posted by psmealey at 5:00 AM on October 24, 2007

chrominance, I wonder if we fans of whitechocolatespaceegg are just hesitant to speak up, given the albums that followed it. Personally, I really enjoy it. I also like Exile in Guyville and Whip-Smart, but all for different reasons and at different levels.
posted by barnacles at 5:08 AM on October 24, 2007

I came of age in the late-'80s "post-modern"/college-rock explosion (cf., Left of the Dial), so I'm used to a certain amount of big-label pixie dust on my "underground" rock. Taken in that framework, whitechocolate is still a very special album to me. I've never cared about Phair's (actual or perceived) indie pedigree - I'm a sucker for solidly-written, handsomely-played songs with a semi-gloss pop veneer, and wcse has a considerable number to choose from. Yes, the lyrics can be dumb as hell and the songs may be needlessly tricked out like a Neon with rotating rims, but taken on its own merits and independent of her so-called street cred, its pleasures are totally guiltless for me.
posted by mykescipark at 5:35 AM on October 24, 2007

I loved WCSE. I had assumed that she was going to have PJ Harvey's "problem" (only every other album by Peej really grabbed me). Then the self-titled thing came out and scared off that theory.
posted by pxe2000 at 5:43 AM on October 24, 2007

psmealey, and how! I always felt like I was somehow missing the boat when Liz Phair kept getting indie mag cred and the kids were all talkin 'bout her as I walked by. Like hunnhh.. what am I missing? I could never figure it out -- every time I listened I was like meh?

Here I am listening to To Bring You My Love, and somebody keeps pushing Whip-Smart at me, and I just didn't see that at all.

Wait a minute did I just have a High Fidelity moment??! *rapidly sheds clothes* I LOVE JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE!! SQUEEE!!!!
posted by cavalier at 6:22 AM on October 24, 2007

Come to think of it, wasn't Exile in Guyville the first music blog post ever?
posted by psmealey at 6:50 AM on October 24, 2007

I'll stick up for Whip-Smart and whitechocolatespaceegg (although the percentage of quality tracks dropped a bit from each album to the next), but I have to admit I didn't even bother with the last album.

But even if everything she released after Guyville was a steaming pile of terrible, she'd still have that album, which is fantastic to this day and one of the best debut albums ever. Being a one album wonders is nothing to be ashamed of...tons of groups/artists don't even have that much to offer.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:30 AM on October 24, 2007

I can think of a ton of reasons why wcse isn't exactly revered. It's the first Phair album under the Matador/Capitol joint venture of doom, and though that was almost before my time I imagine there's still plenty of bad blood from that. It also took a couple of years to germinate, so expectations were high. Finally it was a shift from what came before, so anyone hoping for more of the same old was disappointed.

But I think the most obvious reason why not that many people seem to like the album is that wcse was Liz Phair's attempt to do late-90s Sheryl Crow material. Obviously this is never going to sit well with a lot of people.
posted by chrominance at 7:32 AM on October 24, 2007

Am I the only Liz Phair fan who thinks of Whitechocolatespaceegg as "the wedding album"?

I've been a huge fan of hers since I saw her perform 6'1" (my height coincidentally) on 120minutes, but I've lost interest after Juvanalia. I think that says more about how good Juvanalia is than how little I liked Whitechocolatespaceegg.
posted by butterstick at 7:55 AM on October 24, 2007

I guess there aren't a whole lot of fans of whitechocolatespaceegg either, though I think it's pretty keen.

I think it's probably my favorite of her albums, though that may be colored by how much I hate the self-titled album and the fact that it's the first one I heard as a whole album. Plenty of great stuff on the other two, though; "Divorce Song" is one of my favorite tunes of all time.
posted by aaronetc at 8:03 AM on October 24, 2007

I had tickets to see Liz Phair at The Academy (long gone NYC rock club) on April 8th, 1994. Kurt Cobain's body was found that afternoon. Then, my parents wouldn't let me go to the show that night because I had to take the S.A.T.'s the next morning.

I still have the un-ripped ticket for the show. The Raincoats were the opening act.

I still love Exile (first heard Fuck and Run on a long island college radio show late at night. The host, some guy named Jeff "The Lizard". Anyone know who the hell that was?) and still think these Girly sound recordings are incredible. I like Whip-smart, especially "Nashville".

Thanks for the link.
posted by JBennett at 8:11 AM on October 24, 2007

The scattered girlysounds tracks i had were always some of my favorite Liz Phair songs, so thanks for posting these.
posted by sophist at 8:18 AM on October 24, 2007

Liz was producing a lot of interesting music around the WCSE-stuff like Hurricane Cindy, Firewalker, and Conversation Between Two Bouncers. Unfortunately, that's when she decided to go for the brass ring, and it's never been released.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:28 AM on October 24, 2007

Another fan of whitechocolatespaceegg, here, along with the rest of her stuff. 'What Makes You Happy' is one of my favorite songs all around.
posted by mewithoutyou at 8:43 AM on October 24, 2007

psmealey -- princess vs. goddess.
posted by desuetude at 8:58 AM on October 24, 2007

There you go.
posted by psmealey at 8:59 AM on October 24, 2007

She's a mere dot on the map compared to the work of Miss Polly Jean Harvey.

Who has also, unfortunately, become less and less engaging with each successive album.
posted by shmegegge at 9:07 AM on October 24, 2007

Who has also, unfortunately, become less and less engaging with each successive album.

I like her most recent album, though I'd agree it isn't as interesting as many of her past efforts. I did think Uh Huh Her was a pretty strong one, though. Worlds better than Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, which critics loved (why, I don't know. It was like her new Prada getup went to her brain.)
posted by katillathehun at 9:13 AM on October 24, 2007

Liz Phair was indie's princess, though? Please. She's a mere dot on the map compared to the work of Miss Polly Jean Harvey.

Which raises the question, why the fuck did indie rock ever need a "princess"? And where is the dude who could manage to be the one great prince?

Too, who in her right mind would want such a title? The orgasms over Liz barely started when the vicious backlash took over and I can barely imagine how both outsize reactions would mess with a young girl's head. I can't begin to list the indie rock dudes (much less rock dudes in general) who have embellished or outright fabricated their autobiographies, failed to ever match their early successes, and are studio monsters who can't perform live for shit. Where would I even start? But the reaction to Liz's failures always seemed to contain an element of outsize glee. People relished her every misstep and congratulated themselves extravagantly on seeing through the hype surrounding her.

This always seemed frankly stupid and pointless to me, because the truth about her is so much more interesting than any hype or lies. Her playing, her no-frills voice, her often crude and cruel lyrics, her tits hanging out in the Exile liner were a shy girl's attempt to be a rock monster, and on record and paper she pulled it off brilliantly. When she tried to play live it all fell apart, because she was not that girl, just like most rock boys are not the cock monsters they pretend at either. They've had a lot more models to blindly copy, though.

What she did manage to do with Exile was create a perfect fuck you of a record. If you want to know what it's like to want to play with the boys on an even field -- with your guitar or your words or your body -- that record will tell you almost everything you need to know. God, did it piss people off! And excited their jaded nerves, so that they didn't know whether to kiss her or kick her or both. They certainly decided quick enough, though. I like her later records too, and I like Girlysounds, etc. etc., but that's still the record I listen to and laugh and laugh. I'll always love her for that. But I'll never, ever call her a princess.
posted by melissa may at 9:13 AM on October 24, 2007 [13 favorites]

And where is the dude who could manage to be the one great prince?

Bonnie Prince Billy

posted by JBennett at 9:47 AM on October 24, 2007

"Fuck and Run" was a pretty good song.
posted by blucevalo at 9:53 AM on October 24, 2007

If you want to know what it's like to want to play with the boys on an even field ...

Then take a listen to Sister Rosetta Tharpe and tell me there was as much new under the sun there as you thought. And maybe think about racial and class (and related taste) issues in combination with gender while you're at it.
posted by raysmj at 10:14 AM on October 24, 2007

Melissa may's eloquent (as usual) comment speaks to the unfortunate fact that misogyny in rock, indie or otherwise, just won't seem to quit.

There was a time when I was genuinely optimistic about sexism being on the wane in the broader culture, largely because of what I was seeing in independent music. It seemed like, for a time, that the ascendancy of artists like Ani di Franco, PJ Harvey, Throwing Muses, Belly, L7, Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland, the Gits, Seven Year Bitch, (earlier) the Raincoats, (later) Sleater-Kinney, (as well as the fact that high profile groups like the Pixies, Sonic Youth and Smashing Pumpkins had high profile female band managers) indicated the the he man women haters club of rock 'n' roll was finally breathing its last breath.

But the criticism around the release of Guyville was so sharp, so nasty, so retrograde, it practically cratered whatever optimism there was. It was disgusting. The final nail in the coffin was when these artists were abandoned by the labels in the late 90s in favor of endless tarted up girl stars That rendered those early promising days a dim memory.

I'm not sure what can be done about it, or if things will ever change, but melissa may's comments served as grim reminder to me of how bleak and depressing the reaction to Guyville was back in those days.
posted by psmealey at 10:18 AM on October 24, 2007

I meant to link to info about this book in the second link (to Amazon), but ... well, there it is.
posted by raysmj at 10:20 AM on October 24, 2007

I'm always amazed how there's always at least one condescending jackass in threads such as these who assumes that he is the only person to know anything about the history of music. (That's also why I generally avoid them, but I digress.) Thanks for being today's jackass, raysmj. I've certainly never listened to the blues or gospel before, nor thought about race and gender, nor history in general. That's why I made the claim that there was no precedent for Liz's general approach as opposed to few, that she sprang from the head of rock's penis like Athena, and concluded my remarks with "White Power"!

It's a good thing you wandered by in your monocle to put me in my place.
posted by melissa may at 10:35 AM on October 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Damn it, that sort of thing is never worth it.

Thanks for your comments, psmealey. I truly appreciate it.
posted by melissa may at 10:37 AM on October 24, 2007

but melissa may's comments served as grim reminder to me of how bleak and depressing the reaction to Guyville was back in those days.

You can say that again. And to think Steve Albini was the biggest cunt of all.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:44 AM on October 24, 2007

To be honest, Steve Albini made some remarkably good and almost prescient points in that letter. He was certainly not the biggest of Phair's detractors, and he specifically pointed out how she was the least offensive of the three acts mentioned in the article. A person can feel however they want about the hype backlash phair suffered through, but Albini hardly typifies the worst of it. He simply hates what he saw as her pandering for commercial success, and said so. Mostly, he was truly vicious toward Wyman.
posted by shmegegge at 11:15 AM on October 24, 2007

On a local level he did more to undermine not only her success but the success of other up and comers with his OMG SELLOUT!11! bullshit. The fact that I'm quoting from that exchange fourteen years after the fact should speak to the ripple effect it had.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:28 PM on October 24, 2007

well, i was just going by the article linked. I honestly only just became aware of the chicago scene about a year ago, so I don't really know about his history with her. good to know, though, thanks.
posted by shmegegge at 12:49 PM on October 24, 2007

Gad, Albini is such a prick.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:32 PM on October 24, 2007

Spot on, of course wemayfreeze, but this made me laugh:

"Urge Overkill are Oingo Boingo (Weiners in suits playing frat party rock, trying to tap a goofy trend that doesn't even exist)."

I don't think you can sum up the Urge more concisely than that.

though in defense, Elfman went on later to write the theme music for the Simpsons and score quite a few films. Nash Kato's post Urge career has, uh, not be quite as successful.
posted by psmealey at 2:41 PM on October 24, 2007

Liz Phair was indie's princess, though? Please. She's a mere dot on the map compared to the work of Miss Polly Jean Harvey.

Neither of them are fit carry Lisa Kekaula or Kim Warnick's amps, but that's beside the point.

Liz Phair was not-bad pop-rock singer who looked like a cheerleader and said 'fuck' a lot. Once that wore off, she was just another sensitive housewife.
posted by jonmc at 4:36 PM on October 24, 2007

Kim Warnick is a super nice lady who I'm proud to say poured me many a beer at Linda's and was always up for a laugh and to commiserate about our shitty jobs, but really? Her voice sounded like two screeching cats in a bag (a foil for Kurt Bloch's speaking voice, I guess) to me.
posted by psmealey at 5:38 PM on October 24, 2007

Kim Warnick is a super nice lady who I'm proud to say poured me many a beer at Linda's and was always up for a laugh and to commiserate about our shitty jobs, but really?

Yeah, really. I'd much rather listen to the Fastbacks than anything Liz Phair did, and a big rason is Kim & Lulu's singing.
posted by jonmc at 5:46 PM on October 24, 2007

Liz Phair made one amazing record and at least one interesting record, and that's not bad.

Really, it's hard for anyone, once successful, to maintain the intensity required to make great rock records, to say the least of someone who grew up as rich and as pretty as Liz Phair did and had to invent her intensity as a dorm room project. Any 40 year old who is still bringing in a serious way is probably still mining their precious few years of teenage-early-20s poverty and rejection.

Every time I play Exile I'm thankful that Phair's pattern of college acceptances and rejections fell where they did; somewhere else and she'd probably have rushed DG with her New Trier buddies and that've been the end of that.
posted by MattD at 5:54 PM on October 24, 2007

The existence of Stratford on Guy makes her OK in my book.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 6:27 PM on October 24, 2007

Weebot, Thank you. Your link to girlysound allowed me to complete my Liz Phair mp3 collection. I had a smattering of tracks from this album, but it was terribly incomplete.
posted by u2604ab at 7:10 PM on October 24, 2007

Liz Phair could be the brainchild of Lou Pearlman and Tommy Mottola and Exile would still be one of the best albums ever recorded.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:38 PM on October 24, 2007

With wcse, I think she realized it was finally time to move on from Girly Sound. I dug the album's maturity and perspective, and was really looking forward to seeing how she would develop as an artist -- it's a damn shame she chose not to.
posted by whuppy at 6:20 AM on October 25, 2007

. . . a foil for Kurt Bloch's speaking voice, I guess . . .
I idolize Kurt Bloch, but I totally thought he was messing with me when we chatted after a YFF show.

And while we're sidebarring about Kims That Rock: Kim Shattuck!!!
posted by whuppy at 6:23 AM on October 25, 2007

I just wanted to add that I really like whitechocolatespaceegg too.
posted by blacklite at 10:10 AM on October 25, 2007

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