Liz Phair releases surprise new album

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Like most Liz fans, I’m both surprised and confused by the news that she released a new album this past weekend.  The album, titled Funstyle, is available for purchase on Phair’s site for only $5.99 (digital or physical copies can be purchased), but it’s the music that has everyone talking.  First off, let’s begin with Bollywood–the smart, if not completely batshit, single Phair decided to release as a preview for her album.  And before I go any further, you need to listen to the song to truly understand what I am talking about.

Unlike most fans, I defended Liz until the bitter end.  Even when she released albums like Somebody’s Miracle and Liz Phair I would always say that even though this wasn’t the indie queen we all used to love, she’s still making quality music and is happy.  I never questioned her judgment or her artistic talent.  And if anything, I was wondering why the public was being so harsh on a woman trying to make a living and who was brave enough to release two significantly different albums than her fans had become accustomed to.

My dedication to Liz flared, just for a few days mind you, this weekend when I heard Bollywood.  My initial reaction was sadness.   I had always prided Liz on the fact that she was a woman who did what she wanted to do and never cared what anyone thought.  With Bollywood it sounded (and I’m still confused over this) as if she was desperately trying to be Ke$ha in order to keep up with the new queens of pop.  It made sense:  Phair had given numerous interviews back in 05 stating un-apologetically that she wanted her music played on the radio.  And with two albums that had flopped, I had to wonder if she was still hellbent on getting that hit single.  And to me, that was the biggest tragedy of Bollywood: that Liz felt like she had to sacrifice her artistic integrity for other people to possibly come to know her music again.  Even when doing so, she still sounded about twenty years outdated.  The song could have been made by Paula Abdul in the eighties and been a hit; today it’s just bizarre.

But, I had to reason.  Phair, even with two massive misfires in the public’s eye, is extremely smart.  She knows what it takes to make a hit song because she had a few with Liz Phair and the lyrics for Bollywood are extremely honest about her struggles to make a living as an aging musician.  The more I listened to it and tried to understand just what the HELL was going on with the song, it almost seemed like a snide practical joke or kiss-off to anyone who had tried to ruin her career in the past seven years.  So the question remained: Was Phair being serious with this song or is the joke on us?

While I can say, with all certainity, choosing Bollywood as the single to market the album with was a HUGE mistake I do believe Phair is smart enough to know this isn’t going to land her on the radio.  And after listening to the rest of the album, it became more apparent that there were a handful of serious, raw songs that were the most stunning and original she had recorded in years.  The album as a whole is quirky and bizarre, and unlike anything being released today.  Even though everyone is either blatantly confused or disdains Bollywood it stands to reason that Phair is getting exactly what she wanted.  It took balls to release such an album out of nowhere, and while we may never know her true intentions, it should be applauded.  This is  the most experimental and lively we’ve heard Phair in years and for that, she deserves some good press.  Gone is the gloss and half-hazard songs.  In are songs that mock soccer moms and radio stations/fans who hate everything she’s releaed since 95.

And some of the songs are brilliant.  Take “You Should Know Me” or “And He Slayed Her” and they hold up quite well against some of her most legendary tracks like “Supernova” or “Girls! Girls! Girls!”  The songs are essentially bare-boned with only Phair and her guitar featured, and are reminiscent of the Girlysound days.  Even in her most unlistenable moments, Funstyle is still miles ahead of Somebody’s Miracle because of it’s sheer brashness.  On nearly every song, Phair has a point to make and she makes it very clear. Admittedly, there are a few songs that I still don’t understand.  And one or two I can barely manage to listen to, but there’s something endearing in their strangeness.

Over the weekend I was talking to one my best friends who grew up with me listening to Phair sing about wanting to be a blowjob queen about this and she made a statement that’s stuck with me over the past few days.   “I have this theory,” she said.  “That no matter how awful anything Liz Phair releases is, it’s still going to be awesome because I know it’s exactly how she wanted it to be.”  And that, in essence, is maybe how we should look at an album like Funstyle.  It’s completely self-produced, released, and written and for the first time in probably twelve years we’re finally hearing Phair.  Loud and brutally clear.

UPDATE!! LIZ PHAIR POSTED THIS MESSAGE ON HER WEBSITE ABOUT THE ALBUM:

How To Like It.

You were never supposed to hear these songs. These songs lost me my management, my record deal and a lot of nights of sleep.Yes, I rapped one of them. Im as surprised as you are. But here is the thing you need to know about these songs and the ones coming next: These are all me. Love them, or hate them, but dont mistake them for anything other than an entirely personal, un-tethered-from-the-machine, free for all view of the world, refracted through my own crazy lens.

This is my journey. Ill keep sending you postcards.-Liz

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