Liz Phair

Matador Records, 1996


REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


Follow-ups can be a bitch. Especially when your debut double album is arguably the best album of the decade. For artist, Liz Phair, her debut album, Exile In Guyville, stands as a landmark album of the 1990s. Her unmistakeable voice and her frank delievery of subject matter ranging from blowjobs to roommates from hell made her a founding voice for the "women rock" era of this decade.

What made Exile In Guyville so grand was its flawless exercise in character study. The listener got to know Liz Phair that was almost too intimate for most listeners. You heard a woman who could boast about using a man for nothing more than a lay and at the same time, give an account of isolation and lonliness after a boyfriend took her for a ride and tossed her aside.

With her follow-up, Whip-Smart, Liz Phair spends more time showing the listener what she can do musically. From the first listen, you can tell that Whip-Smart is a pop album at its purest. Aside from the minimal piano opening of "Chopsticks," most of the songs are three minute zingers that are as sweet as a pack of Bubbleicious Watermellon Blast Bubble Gum.

Credit Brad Wood for creating some of the magic on Whip-Smart. The drummer/ producer of both Guyville and Whip-Smart enabled Liz Phair to be the focus of both albums. Though the drums and bass certainly are a rich factor in Whip-Smartmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 , Liz Phair's stoner sweet voice is the main attraction. Her ability to use simple choruses (a la the GoGos) in a complex song like "X-Ray Man" is a stunning testament of her skills.

If Liz Phair has an obsession on Whip-Smart, it is nursery rhymes. In the metaphoric-heavy "Dogs of LA", Phair croons, "I've kissed the Buddah and made him cry/Georgie I'm your friend". In the title track, the chorus seems tailor made for jump rope. To some fans, this was a step back for Liz. The personal, insightful lyrics that dominated Guyville are now only on a couple of songs. Perhaps her marriage and her newfound success took the edge out of the expecting mother.

If the knife has dulled somewhat, it still is a damn good knife that can cut. On "Jealousy", Liz steps up the tempo a notch and belts out one of her angriest songs over one of her catchiest hooks. "Wonder if I can bury the hatchet inside/imagine me behind your eyes....I've seen positions that we've never tried/I saw jealousy". The song's inspiration came from the central character finding some old photos of previous girlfriends from her boyfriend. Message to guys:keep those photos locked up.

Other songs are just as good, musically, but are much more vague in their subject matter. On "Go West", Liz Phair simply states a need for a change of scenery. In "Support System", her main point is, "I don't need a support system". All good and well, but she doesn't give nearly the insight as she put forth in Guyville.

Whip-Smart is able to satisfy most Liz Phair fans. And to its credit, it blows away most of the albums released by the artists on the Lilith Fair tour. And, unfortunately, Whip-Smart may make Liz Phair turn out to be the Patti Smith of the 1990s. I'd rank Horses up there with Guyville and Patti Smith's more commercial Easter album certainly can be comparable to Whip-Smart. And both shyed away from the music world after they became mothers. For Liz Phair, she hasn't made an album since Brad Wood has pursued other musical avenues. Her upcoming album has been delayed for almost a year and a half. Perhaps she too will fade after her new album comes out, which was rumored to have been sent back to her after record execs said it was unlistenable.

Credit Liz Phair, however, she knew she had to change her formula. What made her such an attraction on her first album (her vulgarity) would have been dreadfully repetitious on Whip-Smart. Think I'm wrong, just try watching a "South Park" marathon. Sure, it rocks, but after four of five consecutive shows, it tends to lose its punch. Her pop knowledge elevated Whip-Smart into one of the best releases in 1994. Unfortunately, the way things are going, it may very well have been her last stab at greatness as a career girl. Whether marriage or motherhood will make her an even stronger artist remains to be seen. Hopefully the answer will come sometime this year.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 1998 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Matador Records, and is used for informational purposes only.