Liz Phair burst onto the music scene in 1993 with the still utterly extraordinary Exile in Guyville. Released on the indie label Matador Records, it’s an 18 track lo-fi classic. While it isn’t a song-for-song reply, early reviews and interviews made much of the similarity between Phair’s debut and the Rolling Stones’ classic Exile on Main Street (similar title, 18 tracks, and one of their masterpieces). Personally, I’ve always seen as a response to the earlier album. The Stones’ album is the quintessential Rock & Roll guy’s album, full of sex and drugs, and it was recorded under such a cloud of debauchery that I think wisps of it still float over France today.
Exile in Guyville is more interior, more emotional, more stereotypically feminine. It is a woman’s response to the cavalier attitude that guys have been copping with her for years. This is the answer to all the psychic damage done by the sexist attitudes of rock music and the guys who think it’s cool to treat women like objects because that’s what Mick Jagger does.
Liz Phair was kind of fearless back then. She hasn’t changed much, although her music is a little more slick and well-produced these days. The songs on Guyville had a brash, profane intimacy to them. She was angry/happy/sad/sexy/stupid/bored, and she wasn’t afraid to tell anyone about it. Phair herself has said that most of these songs aren’t based on her personal experiences, but that doesn’t make them any less authentic. She might not be singing about herself on “Fuck and Run,” but she’s felt that way. There’s a brilliant empathy on this album that makes the emotions resonate and reverberate to your bones.
It’s hard to deny feelings this strong. And we’ve all been there, knowing we made a mistake, knowing we’re not gonna get whatever it is we want. The Rolling Stones once sang, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need.” Liz Phair is here to remind us that sometimes we don’t even get that. Sometimes, it’s fuck and run. That might work for some people, but it doesn’t work for her.
It shouldn’t work for anyone.