- Audio CD (June 22, 1993)
- Number of Discs: 1
- Label: Matador
- ASIN: B0000036RP
- Average Customer Review: 142 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #176,709 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
Exile in Guyville
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Exile In Guyville
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Liz Phair Exile In Guyville US CD album
Phair claimed that this album was a song-by-song answer to the Rolling Stones' Exile On Main St. While that's unlikely, it's an astonishing songwriting debut. Guyville got a lot of attention for its very frank sexuality, and though Phair knows how to shock, her real strength is lyrics that capture subtleties of extreme emotional states and interpersonal bargaining. Her voice isn't great, but all it has to do is ride the rails of her acutely observed, ingeniously melodic songs: "Divorce Song"'s laser-beam analysis of the moment when a marriage disintegrates, "Flower"'s coy lust, "Stratford-On-Guy"'s dizzying epiphany. She's also an inventive guitarist, and her arrangements--featuring coproducer Brad Wood--keep the album fresh and varied. --Douglas Wolk
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Released June 22nd 1993
Produced by Liz Phair and Brad Wood
So, for those who don't know who Liz Phair is, here's a one-sentence recap: Phair--a mostly unknown musician from Chicago--recorded some of her songs onto a four track recorder, sent a few cassette copies out and Matador Records decided to take a gamble and allowed her to record a demo only when it was done she told them "This isn't a demo, this is the FINISHED ALBUM,"--a double album, actually, 18 songs--they put it out anyway and it was an indie hit with Rolling Stone eventually listing it as one of the 500 best rock albums of all time--they place it at 327, I put it firmly in my top 50.
If albums were romantic dates, Phair would be a keeper from the first one. She lures you in with the rock 'n' roll songs which are sparse and driving, shows you how smart she is with her conversationally direct lyrics, and then seals the deal with her seemingly knowledgeable and uninhibited talk about sex.
But let's get to the songs. Because Phair writes some interesting and riveting songs. Songs which range from rockin' out with a definite Rolling Stones bent, to the introspective and moody, to the "studio as a toolbox" songs. The one constant is Phair's excellent use of the English language--not as poetry or, heaven help us all: "Poetry" (imagine that last word in flowery italics to get the full effect) but as smart, simple, meaningful, occasionally personal statements. If you're gonna make a statement, make it loud--and Phair does just that with self-assurance, unabashed wit, and a fearless helping of four-letter words that would make most young women her age blush. And some men, also. Even the title to some of her songs can't be printed in a family friendly museum such as this. Nor can entire verses of the seemingly innocuously titled song "Flower" which has some of the raunchiest lines ever put to music. Phair indulges in the sexually explicit--but not entirely for the shock value, she's making a point about modern human relationships and there's no denying that sex plays a large part of that.
The album kicks off with the pedal pressed down hard for the two opening cuts, "6'1"" and "Help Me Mary" and then she takes a breath before getting into "Never Said Nothing"--a perfect pop song if there ever was one, and one of the defining songs on the album--and you're thinking how can this album get any better? And at that point you're not even a third of the way into it. The full band songs are contrasted with a few that are simply Phair's voice and electric guitar or an occasional odd instrument to add a touch of flavor.
Another one of the defining songs on Guyville (Can there be more than one defining song on an album? I'm voting assuredly with a yes.) is "Divorce Song" which showcases Phair's knack for rolling guitar chord rhythms and has insightful lines such as:
"I would have stayed in your bed
For the rest of my life
Just to prove I was right
That it's harder to be friends than lovers
And you shouldn't try to mix the two
'Cuz if you do it and you're still unhappy
Then you know that the problem is you"
This song lays it all out in the open then slams the door shut with a rockin' harmonica outro over a rockin' beat. And one thing you can say about Phair is that she's a rocker--she doesn't play soft finger-picked acoustic ballads or weepy girl love songs and she doesn't attempt to outdo the guys by playing like a guy either. She has her own style that she stamps these songs with, completely original in her songwriting and delivery. She's more like her contemporary Jen Trynin than the come late to the party but got more famous Alanis Morissette, or female fronted bands such as Veruca Salt. Musically, Phair follows in the footsteps of Mick and Keef (Remember "Play With Fire" anyone?) and thematically she sings about personal relationships and sex in the modern world--but hardly ever about love itself. There's plenty songs here about lust and wanting, or about getting along with one another on this album, yet not one song strictly about love. The closest she gets is the song whose title we can't say here. Just let it be said that the song rocks and makes you think at the same time.
The production by Brad Wood, who played the drum and bass parts here, is a perfect match to her songs. Never again would she have a producer who was so in tune with what she was creating. He marries Charlie Watts style drums to driving bass lines, reinforcing her electric guitar rhythms perfectly. He allows Phair to indulge in soft-amped up instrumentals and loopy intros. They play with studio trickery such as recording two snares panned to the far sides of the mix rather than right down the center like the norm and it totally works. The piano sounds are intentionally muddy and indistinct, the mixes are dynamic--from soft and cold to white hot in an instant, the electric guitars snap and hum like a good tube amp should. And let's pause for a moment and talk about the bass. (I'm a bass player, I'm entitled, so bear with me for a moment here.) Brad Wood's bass playing on this album is sublime. Nothing flashy--who has time for that?--and nothing that would make anyone think he was a virtuoso or prodigy. What he excels at here, though, is underpinning the songs, reinforcing the rhythm, adding little flourishes of countermelody around the vocals, all the while driving and pushing the songs further and faster. A perfect bassist.
Oh yeah, one more thing: Is Guyville a "song by song answer" to Mick and Keef's classic album Exile On Main Street as Phair herself stated when this was released? Not exactly. My feeling is that Phair had an album with 18 songs and wasn't sure how to sequence it so she referenced the Stones album to see how they handled a double album with so many songs. She used their album as a template if you will and instantly had a title: Phair being the female musician outcast in a city full of male musicians was, herself, the "Exile In Guyville."
These days I can't even imagine listening to an 18(!) song recording, and liking them all.
I remember hearing 'Never Said' on the local hipster radio station back when it was just released,
instantly loved it, and waited through the next couple of songs they played so I could get her name.
Because of its amateur/DIY approach, the whole thing has a strange, uniquely atmospheric mood
that is very hard to describe, and unreproducible. The occasional seesawing between victim/vampire personae,
from song to song, I think has a lot to do with its ultimate success. A lot of reviews over the years have
went into depth about EIG, so there's not much more I can add, but if you've never heard this, you're truly missing something.