Wednesday, October 17, 2007

[048] Exile In Guyville

Album: Exile In Guyville
Artist: Liz Phair
Release Date: June 1993
Label: Matador
Producers: Liz Phair & Brad Wood

"Every time I see your face I get all wet between my legs
Every time you pass me by, I heave a sigh of pain
Every time I see your face I think of things unpure, unchaste
I want to fuck you like a dog
I'll take you home and make you like it
Everything you ever wanted
Everything you ever thought of
Is everything I'll do to you
I'll fuck you and your minions too
Your face reminds me of a flower
Kind of like you're underwater
Hair's too long and in your eyes
Your lips a perfect "suck me" size
You act like you're fourteen years old
Everything you say is so obnoxious, funny, true and mean
I want to be your blowjob queen
You're probably shy and introspective
That's not part of my objective
I just want your fresh, young jimmy
Turning, slamming, ramming in me
Every time I see your face I think of things unpure, unchaste
I want to fuck you like a dog
I'll take you home and make you like it
Everything you ever wanted
Everything you ever thought of
Is everything I'll do to you
I'll fuck you till your dick is blue
Every time."
- full lyrics to "Flower"

There’s a lot of myth-making B.S. surrounding Liz Phair’s excellent debut. The Girlysound demos. The Matador hookup. Hanging out with Urge Overkill. Getting slammed in the media by Steve Albini. Blah blah blah blah blah. There’s really only two things that constantly get mentioned that are of any import: Exile On Guyville was intended to be, supposedly, a song-by-song response to The Rolling Stones towering 1972 classic, Exile On Main St., and Liz Phair has one hell of a filthy mind and a mouth to match. OK, well, I know that’s a bit reductive because the album is much more than that, but everyone wanted to make those points so hard, and I say so what? No really, the essence of Punk Rock, in all its many permutations, is to subvert the accepted, so why did anyone have a problem with a girl with a guitar saying what she felt? I guess the Indie boys, playing in bands and writing in ‘zines, weren’t as Indie as they thought if they were intimidated by little Liz Phair. Maybe they were just jealous cuz she made a better record than they did.

If you’re going to make an unofficial sequel to another band’s album, then why not pick one that’s easily among the five best records ever made? The Stones were in peak form, musically if not physically or chemically, and the songs on the infamous double album gave young Lizzie plenty of material to fuck around with. Furthermore, if you’re a young woman trying to speak up in the middle of a “boys club” (ugh, I hate that phrase), and in some peoples’ eyes, you’re vandalizing a classic, you might as well pick one by the most mannish boys in the club, ya know, as a Statement. Now, the album isn’t exactly song-by-song, and response is the wrong term, but Phair and her partner-in-crime Brad Wood used the vague template; honestly, the response might be hidden in the album, but the way Guyville was released, the songs are just in a different sequence. They always seem one off. “Explain It To Me” flips decades of Rock & Roll inequality by demanding retroactive respect, while also echoing “Sweet Black Angel”. Likewise, the detached “Stratford-On-Guy” mimics The Stones’ anti-climactic
“Soul Survivor”, suggesting that this should end her album and not the lively
“Strange Loop”, which falls more in line with “All Down The Line”…Or maybe Liz got it right, and “All Down The Line” should tidy up after Main St. One that does sync up is the overlooked masterpiece “Help Me Mary”, one of the emotional centerpieces of the album, with the hard-charging “Rip This Joint”; posing an engaging metaphor of the mostly male music scene she encountered in Chicago against the fear of a surreal home invasion, its protagonist lays and waits, and in the end, is sure of impended victory and vindication. Fitting into the framework of the Stones argument, it can definitely be applied to a possible female view of the debauchery that was going on in that legendary French villa in ’71.

I don’t want to be another one of those music critics that fell all over themselves to genuflect to Ms. Phair just because she handed them the outline of their Indie Rock dream girl, but fuck me if she didn’t nail it. And of course, the whole aggressively sexual thing is at least partly a joke on that same boys club, and Liz had the last laugh. No one will ever know what part of these songs was autobiography, exaggerated hearsay or alter ego, daydream persona, or fabricated character. Phair found the perfect balance of being assertive and submissive, vulnerable and independently strong, so she was able to be a role model for some young females without resorting to clichéd Riotgrrrl rhetoric. But just because Phair refrains from working in the harsh and obvious men-are-dogs stereotypes doesn’t mean she isn’t critical of the masculine sex; Guyville features many men of her past rendered as warnings and cautionary tales.
“6’1”” delivers a final kiss off into the air, standing tall to a man who “fall(s) in bed too easily”; he gets off pretty easy. The creep in “Glory” is lucky he has a long tongue, “Johnny Sunshine” is an insensitive thief (why isn’t this song called “Divorce Song”?), while “Soap Star Joe” is a desperate has-been, the portrait of the American male, complete with a pick-up truck and tight blue jeans. Liz works all angles of female sexuality though, so the album succeeds in its universal accounts of relationships from the young woman’s point of view, and at least some open-minded male fans appreciated the honesty, the peeks behind the curtain. “Fuck And Run” gets too much notice for the unsettling
“even when I was 12” admission, and not enough looks for the rest of Liz’s apologetic lament over a one-night stand; the perceived looseness of that song’s leading lady is in direct conflict with the breakthrough single “Never Said”, which features a subtle lyric about, basically, not being a slut. Whatever Liz’s, or her character’s, desire to be dominated is it lingers over the ghostly
“Canary”, dropping revealing hints like, “I jump when you circle the cherry. I sing like a good canary. I come when called.”

The core of the album, or at least the songs with the most satisfying, resonating messages, are the trio of “Divorce Song”, “Shatter” and “Flower”. The admissions of guilt and search for understanding in the shuffling “Divorce Song” are meant to make the split less biting, if not more amicable. “Shatter” is the most hopeful song on the album because it’s realistic with its future. Liz lays down both halves of her battling psyche, as the weak part that falls for the “sleazy” bad boys has a moment of clarity and regret, and the strong, independent part falls head-over-heels into devotion; the middle ground is a shiny, happy “Maybe”. But of course, “Flower” gets all the attention, still to this day, because it’s the most explicit song on the album. Drawn in detail, probably from every genuine sexual thrill and every disgusting rejected request of her life up to that point, “Flower” is an answer to an entire sex whose come-ons have gotten tired, but instinct says she’s still wants to love us anyway. It’s the ultimate example of “be careful what you wish for…” I know there is a part of Liz Phair that revels in this sort of letting the cat out of the bag (no pun intended) as embracing her animal sexuality and using it as strength, because she’s still doing it, but the thought of repressed Indie boys getting off on this song is slightly disturbing. I personally have a hard time listening to the song, not because I’m offended by it (which I’m not), but because every time, I get caught up in it, my stomach gets queasy from anticipation, and I start thinking, “Yes! There really are women that think like I think!” And then I realize I’ve been duped again, betrayed by my own horny male reflex. The real joke on all the salivating fanboys is that “Flower” is not the only fucking song on an album where every song is a facet of the twenty-something woman, so you can’t expect Liz, or any other girl on the planet, to be your own personal porn star. Just be happy with the sweet new record in your collection.

01. "6'1""
02. "Help Me Mary"
03. "Glory"
04. "Dance Of The Seven Veils"
05. "Never Said"
06. "Soap Star Joe"
07. "Explain It To Me"
08. "Canary"
09. "Mesmerizing"
10. "Fuck And Run"
11. "Girls! Girls! Girls!"
12. "Divorce Song"
13. "Shatter"
14. "Flower"
15. "Johnny Sunshine"
16. "Gunshy"
17. "Stratford-On-Guy"
18. "Strange Loop"

"Fuck And Run" [live, 1995]

"Flower" [audio]

- BONUS: "6'1"" [live on In Session, 1999]
- BONUS: "Help Me Mary" [live in London, 10.03]
- BONUS: "Dance Of The Seven Veils" [live in April, 1999]
- BONUS: "Never Said" [video]
- BONUS: "Mesmerizing" [live on In Session, 1999]
- BONUS: "Fuck And Run" [live in April, 1999]
- BONUS: "Divorce Song" [Tower Records in-store performance, 06.03]
- BONUS: "Stratford-On-Guy" [video]


Anonymous said...

Well, I can't say anything you didn't say. But it was interesting to hear your take on the album. I wonder what you'd say if you were a girl instead of a guy sometimes Raz. hehe

Seriously, this is just one of those formative albums for me. I remember seeing the videos, and I remember listening to it on my CD player with headphones cause I didn't want my parents to hear.

Raz said...

I don't think anyone wants to see me as a woman. Scary, for real. But I did think about that as I was writing, how much different my take on it might be.