No matter what Liz Phair does with her career, she’s seen both sides of critical and audience extremes.
Though she cannot remember much about her early shows in Dallas, she does recall playing a small place with the Flaming Lips. Lips frontman Wayne Coyne asked how she was doing in the face of widespread critical scorn after the release of her fourth album, which was self-titled and unabashedly aimed at the top 40 pop charts.
Phair had a critical breakthrough with her debut LP, Exile in Guyville, in the mid-1990s. A frank and open look at life, love, relationships and breakups, she was hailed as indie rock royalty. By the time of Liz Phair, when a publication like Pitchfork made people try to be cooler than the record store clerk you knew, she was now One of Them. A sell-out. Whatever term that makes outliers feel better about society at large.
Though it’s been many years since she polarized people with songs like “Why Can’t I?” and “Extraordinary,” it’s a fun thing to reflect on. As a writer herself, she’s come to understand how things work.
“I’ve only done books, but when I review them ... my aim is to put what you think you’re buying,” she says in the parking lot outside of her Atlanta show. “I tell you what you’re gonna get. To me, a review is not about team-making. It’s about trying to help people know what to expect so they can decide whether they like it or not.”
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These days, with Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube taking the mystery out of what an artist actually sounds like, it’s laughable to look back and see how upset people get about an album. Phair takes more value in news of a forthcoming plague than a bad review of her music.
“I never took to that idea that a reviewer is like the gatekeeper,” Phair says. “Whatever. Aren’t you just supposed to help them figure out what they want?”
There are people who came in with Exile in Guyville and Whip-Smart and there were people who came in during Liz Phair and Somebody’s Miracle. She’s happy to play to whoever wants to hear her music.
“Great music is always fun to listen to,” Phair says. “Do I always make great music? Hell no. But I keep trying.”
Phair has continued to write and record. She’s currently touring off a box set reissue of Exile in Guyville while also playing some new material. She hopes to record material for a new album by the end of the year. And she has a book of short stories in the works called Horror Stories set for release in 2019.
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“I wanted to write about the intimate moments that happen in your life,” she says. “Like the things that are privately felt that go along concurrently to what’s going on.”
Though she doesn’t know exactly when in 2019 Horror Stories will come out, she’s excited about writing more.
“Oh yeah, I love it,” Phair says. “It’s a lot like writing songs.”