Liz Phair, Indie Queen of Chicago, bestowed her debut album, Exile in Guyville, upon us adoring subjects thirty years ago this summer and it’s just as fresh, relevant, and catchy as ever. It’s pretty bold for your first full length release to be an 18 song double album homage to The Rolling Stones (Exile On Main St) and feature a subtle nip slip on the cover, but that’s precisely what makes this album, and Liz, so remarkable, and truly unforgettable.
If you’ve been missing out on Guyville until now it’s high time you take a stroll through the lo-fi lanes of the landscape crafted by art-student-turned-pop-musician Liz Phair. This album is as DIY as they come in the best way. Most tracks feature only Liz herself with engineer Brad Wood contributing basic backup drums and bass, and a few are just Liz! It’s an exercise in minimalism that never sounds devoid of intrigue. In fact, the overdubbing of vocals really adds a larger-than-life element to the music and her persona. The guitar, sometimes jangly, sometimes ultra compressed, collages exceedingly well with Liz’s low, sincere to sardonic vocals.
I discovered this album (and soon thereafter the entirety of Queen Liz’s discography) when I was in college, though would have greatly benefitted from hearing it in high school. There’s no doubt that Guyville is a feminist album worth studying. The classics “Fuck And Run” and “Divorce Song” examine the tenuous, fragile nature of modern relationships from a woman’s perspective and are possibly even more relatable in the current tech ruled age than when written in the early 90s. “Girls! Girls! Girls,” is a bad bitch anthem parading under a title reminiscent of Motley Crue’s misogynistic 80s hit. Then there’s “Flower,” the shy white girl equivalent of Cardi B’s WAP.
Guyville is not all message though, much of it is pure indie pop fun. I don’t even know what “6’1”” is about, but it’s a serious bop and a real bang of a way to kick off an album. “Never Said,” received a music video and some MTV play, deservedly so, as it is guaranteed to get stuck in your head.
Recently a young friend of mine introduced me to the accolade of, “Mother,” used to praise superstar women. (If you are an old fuddy-duddy like me you can read all about this phenomenon and its roots in queer Ballroom culture in The New York Times). Liz Phair is such a mother. From the release of Guyville in 1993 to her 2021 album Soberish, she has pushed the boundaries of genre and been a voice for women and girls.
Much appreciation to Matador for widely releasing this album into the world and managing to keep it pretty consistently in print. And of course, all hail The Queen.