In Defence Of Liz Phair
I thought long and hard before writing you this letter. I hesitated many times (because I a wuss who cares what others think) thinking that for anyone to care enough about your output to actually write you a letter…? Well, that would just smack of nerdism pretty much off the scale. I mean, does anyone even write "fan letter" anymore? Some still do, I suppose, but I know deep down that I am old enough to know better.
I downloaded your new album Funstyle from your website and was - by stealth - blown away by its creeping brilliance. Its confused self-determination. Its 100% fuck-you-and-your-industry totem, its erratic nature, its need to be let out of the bag, its absolute refusal to be silenced, and also its capacity to make one feel - at times - slightly uncomfortable. It is an album that few would dare unleash on their audience for fear of shame, and this is sad. Yet it is that lack of fear of shame (or stubborn concealment thereof) that makes you so endearing as a musical artist, as well as so unfathomable. I am not writing to in jest; to guffaw and spit through countering teeth about how much I loved your kooky mess of a record (as many have done). No, I am writing to thank you. To thank you for allowing those that want to hear Funstyle - and who choose to really listen to it - the opportunity to do so.
Most reviews have chosen to delineate the "experimental" tracks from the "conventional" ones. This seems to reject what the record represents as a whole, and which slightly undermines your decision to release it as a complete work. Some reviewers (most notably Jakob Dorof in Tiny Mix Tapes) offer an abstract by means of guiding the listener to their own interpretation, which is perhaps the closest to how you intended this album to be consumed. Your work has always oozed sarcasm, black humour and irony, yet this seems to have been forgotten as opinion is cast on this record. Review which proclaim Liz Phair "raps badly". Well, duh, did they really expect you to rap well? And how! Such utterings illustrate the missing of points by country miles.
Two years ago I came across a Guyville-era interview that you gave to the British indie rock magazine, Sounds. Now whilst probably no artist would wish to be pinned to conversations had with journalists 25 years previously, it made for very interesting reading. In comparing your hopes and fears then with the reality of events years, I was able to appreciate the pretty consistent thread that you've tried to maintain throughout your career; in terms of how you view your work, the process, your attitude towards it, and what you are trying to achieve with it as an artist. Further, it seemed to me that through the Girlysounds era to Exile in Guyville through whitechocolatespaceegg and so on, there is no dramatic change of person. Those who wonder who kidnapped the "real" Liz Phair should dig out that interview. What they will find are mutations and and extensions rather than this wholesale sell-your-career-down-the-toilet-and-lose-your-yes-genius-and-credibility-in-the-process that so many speak of when referring to you. I was relieved to rest that interview because then I knew better where you were coming from artistically, and the whole arc of your material made much more sense to me from that point on. And that, for all the missteps and twisted turns; for all the brickbats thrown at your door, has produced only one bad album (2005's Somebody's Miracle). What I'm trying to say, Liz, is that Funstyle is a meaningful and rightful addition to your catalogue. My two favourite tracks are The Beat Is Up and Bollywood. But I'm sure that says far more about me than it does about you.
So why am I writing this letter? Well, with a shy nod to the Sisterhood, I think it is for the same reason you released Funstyle rather than let it run idle on your hard drive. My ego-driven hope is that you might appreciate it and think it cool that there are those out there who believe that the constant lampooning of you is funny as well as sad.
Love and peace and all of that,
(5 September 2010)
(NB: Dug this letter out of a hard drive. The sketchy illustration is new, though.)