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Liz Phair


[Self-Released; 2010]

By ; August 27, 2010 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Okay, I have to admit that I was far too young to note the outrage of Liz Phair’s pop career in the early 2000s, which seems a good place to start discussing. I’m of the belief that if someone takes the money and runs with an effort to be a pop star, then it’s not totally worthy of dismissal, even if the writer of one of the most effective albums of the past two decades turned herself into a “gushing teenager.”

I‘ll keep Phair-based details short because Funstyle is really only about where a woman with total independence goes. Obviously, Phair is no longer slumming it at Capitol Records and she has formed a surprising friendship with Dave Matthews, but other than references to it in a few of Funstyle’s later tracks, the backstory really doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that Funstyle, the sixth full length release from the once-lauded Liz Phair is a return to…something. It isn’t a return to form, as Phair will never make the highly personal work of Exile in Guyville ever again, simply because being a rock mom doesn’t lend well to such depressing and youthful territory without sounding silly. But it does feel like the voice of a newly free creature out of the hell of the major label system.

Unfortunately, that voice is also what hurts much of Funstyle. Funstyle, Exile in Guyville, and the 1994 release Whipsmart all hold one similarity: they all share personal stories. However, Guyville hits its nerve due to relationship stories and the mix of jaded, angry, and sexual overtones. Whipsmart was merely a logical extension of this. But Funstyle is too ingrained in insular matters that no one could even care about. Three songs all positioned as the record’s final tracks and all hinting at the breaking apart of Phair’s record contract is too much. “Satisfied,” the second of these tracks, even sounds more like the pop she would have made at Capitol.

Moreover, Funstyle bounces around in quality so massively that it is hard to keep interest. “Bollywood,” the infamous Phair song where she raps, is easily the worst song she has ever released in her two decades as a musician. Yes, even including her pop stuff. Then a song like the extremely tolerable “You Should Know Me” comes on, and the listener should feel excited, but the tone is already broken. The word for it is probably “frustrating”. Phair contains some of her better music from recent times in a collection that so clearly defeats their purpose.

After “Bollywood,” it is extremely difficult to even get excited for her later work, and even in the era of the iPod and selective listening, it still hurts because “Bollywood” isn’t even the only time Liz tries to play funny and ends up beyond annoying. “Beat is Up” and “U Hate It” run on such dumb and annoying rhythms that instead of properly mocking their subjects, they only sound like embittered and unfunny sentiment. And writing a “funny” song that isn’t funny might be the worst failure of all because it doesn’t accomplish the most simplistic of goals.

For lack of a better term, Funstyle’s biggest problem is that it isn’t fun in any way.


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