Liz Phair

Matador / Capitol Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


It's not a surprise that Liz Phair is getting a lot of attention these days. whitechocolatespaceegg, her latest album, has given fans a lot to talk about and speculate on. For those who are not familiar with the alt-rock goddess, she made a huge splash in 1993 with her classic album, Exile In Guyville.

It topped critics charts. Her warble voice conveyed a sense of vulnerability with car wreck like scenarios of relationships gone bad spoke to both men and women. Even more revelaing was her delicious use of vulgarities. In that album, this vulnerable woman was also, "a real cunt in spring" who would "fuck you 'til your dick is blue".

Then she came out with Whip-Smart. She still had a lot of her brashness in that album, but after the commercial disappointment of that album, Phair got married. A baby followed. While recording whitechocolatespaceegg, questions surrounded why the album took so long to record. She dabbled in the services of Scott Litt (R.E.M.) and Guyville producer, Brad Wood. Record excecutives allegedly sent the entire album back to her, either because the album overall was disappointing or the album lacked a key "hit single".

That all said, whitechocolatespaceegg could be the career building or career ending album for Liz Phair. One thing is for certain:this is not a fans-only album. In fact, if you're new to Phair and dig the confessional singers that shined in the wake of Phair's absence (Alanis Morissette), start out with whitechocolatespaceegg. Though it's a more toned down version of Phair, it has more than enough material to keep you interested.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Fans expecting Return To Guyville will be alienated with this release. But face it, getting married, having children, easing into a domesticated life presents a profound change to anyone. And true fans of Phair will see the maverick sprit of Guyville in much of Whitechocolatespaceegg. In only 50 or so minutes, Phair launches enough musical surprises to keep fans at bay for at least three years.

The biggest surprise is the sound. Overproduction just doesn't fit Phair. Her imperfections make her such a trip to listen to. And with two producers, you could see how those imperfections could be glossed over. Surprisingly, many of the songs remain gloriously imperfect. Phair's voice still sounds edgy, on the verge of cracking in songs like, "Perfect World" and "Go On Ahead".

whitechocolatespaceegg seeps with variety as well. The title track, "Polyester Bride" and "Big Tall Man" all beg to be put on the radio. But "Baby Got Going" has a nice Elvis-like rockibilly shuffle. Other songs thankfully don't fit into any mold, like the quirky, "Uncle Alvarez" or "Shitloads of Money". R.E.M. even gets in on the act, playing guest musicians on "Fantasize".

The new and old topics that Liz Phair covers rarely converge on whitechocolatespaceegg. In "Love Is Nothing", Phair sings, "Love is nothing like they say/ you've gotta pick up all the pieces everyday." Domestication also hits hard on "Only Son", Phair laments in her last stanza about packing up everything and taking off before she loses her soul.

Her sexy, self-loathing old self comes out in two songs, "Ride" and "Johnny Feelgood". The latter song is a nice, borderline R-rated tale of lust. "When me knocks me down and he orders me around / 'Cause it loosens me up / and I can't get enough". Her fixation with nursery rhymes contines with "Ride" when she turns a nighttime prayer ritual into a vivid tale of guilt and purgatory. "And if I die before I wake/I hope the lord won't hesitate / to pluck my coffin from the ground/He need not heed the neighbors now."

With only three so-so numbers, "Shitloads of Money", "Girls Room" and "Perfect World" out of 16, it almost makes the wait for whitechocolatespaceegg worthwhile. People who will weigh this album against her classic album will no doubt be disappointed. In that regard, this album would rate a C or C+. But, if you were to weigh all of Patti Smith's albums against her album Horses, most of her albums would be given the same grade.

Taken as an individual statement in today's music, whitechocolatespaceegg is a bracing release. Fans of Phair or the genre (see any artist on the Lillith Fair tour) will have this CD locked in their players long into the fall. As for Guyville prudists, fear not, whitechocolatespaceegg still has enough edge to scare away listeners. Her child will always be an influence on her. And barring a divorce, so will her marriage. As a person and an artist, she has evolved. Deal with it.

Rating: A-

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© 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 / Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.