Album Review: Girly-Sound to Guyville [Box Set] by Liz Phair
Absolutly essential, Based on 5 Critics
Rolling Stone - 100 Based on rating 5/5
Before I ever heard Liz Phair, I heard about Liz Phair. The Midwestern indie-rock gossip train had made the trip from Chicago, her hometown, to the Minneapolis record store where I worked in high school weeks before an advance copy of her 1993 debut, Exile in Guyville, did. Listening to the men I worked alongside pick apart this woman none of them knew – whom they called an amateur and a slut because she'd written a song called "Fuck and Run" and reportedly appeared topless on her album cover – taught me a crucial early lesson: The boys who run this scene will hate your ambition either way, so you might as well just do whatever you want.
Girly-Sound -- the name of a series of three cassettes Liz Phair released after graduating from Oberlin in 1990 -- is essential to Phair's legacy, the music that led her to her 1993 breakthrough, Exile in Guyville. Despite its centrality, the songs were doled out slowly, either re-recorded for Exile or its sequels, Whip-Smart and Whitechocolatespaceegg, or appearing as B-sides or bonus tracks as late as the 15th Anniversary reissue of her debut in 2008. All of this makes Girly-Sound to Guyville -- ostensibly the deluxe 25th Anniversary reissue of Exile in Guyville -- such a noteworthy release.
If you, like me, were a mopey and searching 13-year-old when Matador first released Exile in Guyville, then perhaps you, too, consider it the sacred text of your youth. Now, 25 years later, Exile remains a kind of sanctified codex for girls: the map that pointed us toward adulthood, or something like it. Phair began making music in 1991. She was newly graduated from Oberlin College and had prodigally returned to the leafy, affluent suburbs of Chicago, where she'd come of age a decade before.
Earlier this month, the New York Times published an interview with singer-songwriter Liz Phair about the anniversary and reissue of her landmark 1993 album Exile In Guyville. In it, the indie rock icon gave an answer that's not only revealing, but also instructive when considering said reissue. "Sometimes," Phair said in response to a question about the life-defining nature of Exile, "I feel like I work for Liz Phair.
Photo by Marty Perez For many listeners in the summer of 1993, Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville seemed to spring full-blown and fully formed from the head of Jupiter, or maybe from Jagger's thigh or at least from the surfeit of super-cool then being cultivated by Gerard Cosloy's Matador label. For some, plugged into the era's snail-mail borne zine-and-cassette-trading circuit, Phair was a more familiar name. Her Girly-Sound tapes had already attracted some keen interest, especially in the traders' youthful and masculine collector culture: "Yipes! This chick sure swears a lot! A-and she sez she wants to be a 'blowjob queen'!" Twenty-five years later, you can still hear the hyperventilating.