Exile in Guyville

Phair, Liz

album cover

The Indie Rock Exile

Liz Phair's lo-fi debut Exile in Guyville got lots of attention for its forthright lyrics—on one song she advises a lover that she wants to be his "blowjob queen," on another she casually mentions that she's been getting rough treatment from boys since she was twelve. Phair used this luridness to give her relationship snafus an uncomfortable level of detail. The words helped draw the initial attention, but it was the music that ultimately set her apart from everything else in indie rock: This eighteen-song cycle is overstuffed with sweet, insinuating melodies, and off-hand remarks that blossom into breathtaking gorgeous refrains.

The mostly homemade Exile sprays Phair's musings across an ambitious range of music. There are several grinding Rolling Stones–style rockers—Phair once claimed, somewhat preposterously, that her album was a track-by-track "response" to Exile on Main St. These are offset by giddy pop confections like "Never Said," which masks its bitterness behind an exuberant harmony chorus, and trembling, tentative waltzes that catch Phair singing in a kind of swan-diving free fall. At once elegant and primitive, Exile is that rare debut loaded with such a dizzying range of leaps and zingers, you begin to wonder whether all of them came from the pen of the same artist.

Exile was all Phair, and it made her more than a star—she became a spokes-person and symbol for countless struggling female rockers. Ten years later, after a series of erratic follow-ups, Phair did an artistic spinout: She hired the Matrix, the L.A. pop production team that created immense hits for Avril Lavigne and others. The result was the awkward Liz Phair, which attempted to graft Exile in Guyville's brazenness onto polished Lavigne-like girl-pop—exactly the kind of inane stuff Phair would have ridiculed during the Exile era.

Genre: Rock
Released: 1993, Matador
Key Tracks: "Johnny Sunshine," "Never Said," "Stratford on Guy," "Flower."
Catalog Choice:


Next Stop: PJ Harvey: Rid of Me
After That: Live Through This
Book Pages: 596–597

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