Saturday, December 16, 2006

album of the day

Exile In Guyville by Liz Phair.

Here's a question - which is more difficult to do: lengthy symphonic prog rock stuff with massively complex and orchestrated arrangements, or punchy pop/rock songs with sparse instrumentation and only 3 minutes or so to make your point? I don't know, is the answer, but I ask the question to draw a contrast between this album and the Yes album which preceded it.

The female singer-songwriter has a long and proud tradition, but generally it's a tradition of slightly kooky acoustic guitar-strumming (Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, etc.) or rampantly kooky piano-bashing (Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple). In the classic four-piece rock band idiom it's quite unusual - I suppose Chrissie Hynde is the obvious forerunner, but even she was never this sexually up-front and aggressive. Anyone with an aversion to liberal use of four-letter words beginning with F and C (song titles like Fuck And Run are a bit of a giveaway), as well as lines like "I want to be your blow-job queen" might find some of the songs here a bit of an ordeal. Which is not to suggest that it's done for shock effect - there's a piercing intelligence at work here, both in the lyrics and in the arrangements of a limited set of instrumentation, from the basic rock numbers (6'1", Help Me Mary, the aforementioned Fuck And Run, Divorce Song, Stratford-On-Guy, Strange Loop) to the sparser numbers like Dance Of The Seven Veils, Canary, Girls! Girls! Girls!, Shatter and Flower (which contains the most eye-wateringly blunt lyrics on the album).

It's sadly predictable that, despite a rabidly enthusiastic critical response, this proved a bit rich and gamey for the wider record-buying public, as did its under-rated and equally lo-fi successor Whip-Smart. Like many genuine innovators it fell to those who came after and were able to produce a more commercially palatable version of the template to really rake in the megabucks. In other words: no Liz Phair, no Alanis Morrissette, though I accept that some might not view this as a bad thing.

This is a YouTube clip of Liz and small band performing Divorce Song - the clip dates from some promotional activities around the time of the release of her self-titled fourth album (which would make it 2003-ish), I think. That's a rather foxy denim mini-skirt and knee-socks combo she's sporting there, as well.

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