Ours was always an open relationship. At the time we first met, you were passionately involved with Matador Records. However it had been a few years since I'd heard you're voice, either on the radio, CD player, or in the Itunes library on the laptop. So you can understand why I was somewhat shocked to find a copy of your new album 'Funstyle' waiting in my mailbox like a undiscovered Egyptian relic. Thank you, by the way, for the courtesy.
Some blogger knob posted some of the new promotional pics. You're looking good for 44 (I, on the other hand, am totally bald). I took a couple of days and gave your new record an unbiased, honest listen, in spite of our inglorious past. Before I convey my thoughts on 'Funstyle', there's some two decade old, pent up emotion I feel obligated to get off my chest.
On that night where we first met, back in Fall of 1994, we made a solemn vow. You swore to always inspire me, and I vowed to always support your career. It might be difficult to believe, especially after the curious twists and turns of your career, but I swear I kept my word for as long as humanly possible.
I still smile when reminiscing of those early days in Harrison Hall over on Western's West Campus. Our world was young, vibrant, and we were both passionate about life. You were easily one of the most influential artists I'd ever heard, flawed and personable, channeling a pre-Alanis quiet annoyance. 'Exile In Guyville', was instantly timeless, so brilliant in fact, I couldn't help but fall in love with you as an artist. I'd openly gush about you, like a cliche music nerd, to anyone willing to listen I'd play tracks like 'Never Said' for other kids around the dorm, or include it on mix CDs with Morrissey and Siouxie, for girls I wanted to sleep with. Some kids would get it instantly, but most would only shake their heads and ask the meaning of your infamous 'because I'm a little cunt in spring' lyric. Yet it always felt like membership in a secret organization staffed solely by those who could recognize and accept the hipster cool of Liz Phair's girly rock.
I distinctly remember listening to your follow up, suggestively titled 'Whip-Smart', with an enormous sense of alt-rock pride. Great reviews poured in, again, from Rolling Stone, The Reader, etc. 'Chopsticks' was such a cute little track to start things off, and then . . 'Supernova'. My heart sank while standing in line at the University bookstore, as I heard it for the first time, playing over the local radio station airwaves. It was my first inkling of how this familiar fairytale was going to climax. I wanted to believe with all my heart, this time, the story would have a happy end where love conquered all. But, deep down, I knew you preferred fame to critical acclaim. It's only in retrospect, I can admit to blindly ignoring our friend's advice when they tried to warn me.
But you put on the happy face and pretended for as long as you could. Your third album, with it's can't-miss title 'Whitechocolatespaceegg', wasn't quite the masterpiece you'd hoped for, and all of us, your biggest fans, could sense your growing disillusionment with the autonomy of being 'indie rock'. Even though 'Polyester Bride' received modest airplay, the track 'Shitloads of Money' said what we we're all thinking. As a whole, the album was stale and uninspired, and it was obvious, you were unhappy.
In the end, as fan and artist, we simply grew apart.
Eventually, I graduated, and moved to your hometown, Chicago. You moved to Nashville to begin recording what should have been your next masterpiece. I'll never forget where I was, when I caught you in the act. It was in Tower Records off Clark Street, while searching through the bins for a copy of the Smashing Pumpkins 'Gish', when I heard your voice. I looked up and noticed you playing guitar all across a row of television monitors. For the briefest moment, the simple sound of your voice transported me back in time, to carefree, happier days. But the abysmal lyrics “We're already wet, and we're gonna' go swimming” brought me right back to the Autotune Hell of 2003. It was as if a zombified version of the Liz I loved, escaped from a parallel comic book universe and attempted to assume your identity. The pap single, 'Why Can't I?', had more in common with a rabid monk slaughtering a 78' Camaro with a dull butter knife, than actual music. And that's how I found out the hard way, you were sleeping with Capitol Records.
Maybe you felt like you had something to prove. Or maybe you were trying to get back at me for not properly appreciating the 'genius' of a title like 'Whitechocolatespaceegg'. Either way, I can't remember ever being more disappointed in a musician of your caliber. The merit of all your hard work, the critical achievement, destroyed in three minutes and twenty-eight seconds. You were always a bit risque with the lyrics, but just enough to keep it edgy, never too far over the top. However, the tart on the cover of 'Liz Phair' is just another housewife trying to prove she can still pull off the wayward catholic schoolgirl look. I felt like a musical pervert just for buying it, but a promise is a promise.
That was the day you truly broke my heart.
Prior to that day, I'd staunchly defended you. Even after you explained to the indie press that 'growth' as an artist is a natural and necessary evolution. Now at parties where your name came up in conversation, it resulted in nothing but laughter and eye rolling. The low point arrived in the form of Pitchfork media assigning the album a 0.0 rating. I talked to some of our old friends over dinner at Renalli's pizza one night, and they gently explained how you were tired of being recognized and not compensated. You were exhausted from the endless touring, of consistently playing smaller venues, and most of all, your efforts not being appreciated on a larger scale. Being a popular indie starlet, when mediocre artists with far less talent, like Jessica Simpleton were raking in the cash, was a bitter pill.
That was when I finally realized, it was time to let go.
So I made the conscious decision to completely ignore your artistic output. I needed space, to absorb your horrifying career choices. I suppose you must have been happy at the time, what with the money, the attention. 'Why Can't I' made it to number 32 on Billboard. But from the outside looking in, the entire charade felt forced. Recently, I heard you've finally admitted those years with Capitol were rougher waters to navigate than expected.
So when 'Somebody's Miracle' was released in 2005, it barely registered on my radar. A friend who worked at Rollingstone.com left a copy on my desk at the 55 W. Wacker office. I recall listening to it and predicting an extraordinarily difficult time lay ahead for you. Capitol gave the impression you weren't what they had bargained for, at all, and the album lacked spark and promotion. Upon discovering my copy of 'Somebody's Miracle' on the kitchen table, a drunk roommate removed the inlay and wrote 'Smell My Toot!' on the cover, before replacing it in my the CD cabinet. I didn't notice for two years.
Eventually you became a ghost in conversations with our old friends. About once a year, they would ask 'Hey, whatever happened to _____' and I'd just shrug and return my attention to whatever P.J. Harvey had released. You became less to me, than three dusty CDs taking up residence on a bookshelf out of reach.
Still, it's only fair to include that night in 2002 where I was drunk on Late Harvest Riesling. The massive flirting that resulted from your background vocals on Sheryl Crow's 'Soak Up The Sun', which gave way to the full blown one night stand of your theme music to the CBS seventies sex drama 'Swingtown'.
And then, the show was promptly canceled
More time passed, the way the years seem to drift as we realize were approaching 40. Honestly, I hadn't thought about you in eons, despite the occasional email: “Liz leaves Capitol Records', 'Liz signs with ATO label', 'Liz raps'.”
The same friend emailed me the article about how you asked ATO to 'release you'. I thought about writing a letter or sending an email, but to say what ? Good luck ? I'm sorry ?
So that brings me to today and why I wrote you. I'm not surprised at your last ditch effort to reach out to all of us, old fans, true fans, there from the beginning. But, this latest effort to win back my affection, 'Funstyle' ? Liz, this desperate attempt to regain credibility is so fucking horrible it makes your self-titled album Grammy eligible. For the love of God, Liz, you're actually rapping on one of the tracks!! I'm telling you this as your friend: it's depressing to watch you humiliate yourself, trying to recapture your indie past. There's just too much water under this bridge.
You're probably asking yourself 'How do you know for sure, asshole!?! Well, because, I was one of your earliest, biggest supporters when no one knew your name. And, never, ever, would I have paid one dime for 'Funstyle'. Hell, I would never have listened to it, if you hadn't mailed me a copy (thanks again!). Not even with the miracle of digital piracy . Not even if I found it in the bargain bin of a Salvation Army resale shop for a penny.
You cashed the check. It's over. It has been since 2003, and you should accept it.
But, Liz, try not to be too sad. Let's end this musical relationship on a positive note. We had our time, and it was glorious. It's a select few indie artists who have graced the cover of Rolling Stone, and no matter what kind of unforgivable musical sins were committed, you remain a member of that exclusive club. One of the intrinsic theme's in your early music is that life is a bittersweet journey. I honestly hope one day you find the artistic peace that continues to elude you.
We'll always have 'Exile' . . even though I still can't stand to listen to it.
*For you idiots who don't understand satire, this letter is complete fiction. In other words, The Blog has never met Liz Phair. However, on her new album, 'Funstyle', Liz does rap, and it is unlistenable!*