90s in 90 Days #71: That Liz Phair debut…

90s in 90 Days #71-That Liz Phair debut…

Here are two things I believe to be true about Liz Phair:

1) She can’t really sing.  I mean, not in a “singy” sort of way.  And she doesn’t show an emotional range like a P.J. Harvey, who can simultaneously seduce and repulse with her voice.

2) She’s not a very good live performer.  Her 90s shows were uncomfortable to watch, as we all bore witness to a level of stage fright that was amped up louder than her guitar. 

So then what made “Exile In Guyville,” Phair’s 1993 debut, such a big freaking deal?  Here are some things I know to be true:

1) It felt honest.  Real.  Authentic.  To this day, I’m not sure if it was the lyrics, Phair’s “everywoman” voice, or Brad Wood’s subtle production—or perhaps the combination of it all—that so effectively conveyed her feelings.  “Exile In Guyville” felt personal and confessional, like a friend had put her last ten late night phone conversations into song.

2) Timing is everything.  Heavy guitar rock from Seattle was the dominant  music genre in 1993.  Enter Liz Phair, the stripped down, lo-fi, XX-chromosomal, opposite of bands like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. “Guyville” was the right record at the right time.

3)  Sex.  Lots of press attention and hype over the album’s naughtier lyrics (“I want to be your blowjob queen,” “fuck and run, fuck and run”)  elevated the album’s profile and (some argued) societal importance.

Lyrics go a long way with me, and there are a handful of songs from “Guyville” that deserved more attention for lyrics than those which ran bluer than the rest.  My favorite is “Divorce Song,” which has Phair chronicling the decay of a relationship in brutally relatable detail:


And the license said 
You had to stick around until I was dead 
But if you’re tired of looking at my face I guess I already am 
But you’ve never been a waste of my time It’s never been a drag 
So take a deep breath and count back from ten 
And maybe you’ll be all right



90s in 90 Days

Over the course of 90 days (not consecutive, though I’ll try), I’ll be offering up a capsule look at something about Chicago music from the 90s.  It could be a radio memory.  Thoughts on a song, show, band, or album.  Maybe a review aided by hindsight.  Whatever it is, it’ll be original content just for this site, and not found in my book.  

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