Monday, August 27, 2007

Music? What music?

Ever since Pitchfork gave And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Death... a 10 out 10 rating, I've been obsessed with finding out what makes the least perfect record in their eyes.

Liz Phair has done the deed. 20 to 30 year olds males fell in love with her indie-rock raunch and roll, and fell even harder when you realize you can kind of see her nipple in the liner notes.

Anyways, nothing kills a hipster erection like a mainstream cross-over, and Liz did just that, although she did talk about cum and other fun eyebrow-raising matter. Matt LeMay hates this album more than he hates Smashmouth and U2 combined! Also, he doesn't know how to talk about music, so he uses words like "depth" and "transparent." All in a days work at Pitchfork!

It could be said that Liz Phair's greatest asset has always been her inability to write a perfect pop song.

Nope. That's wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. She wrote great songs, kaput. And indie producer Brad Wood helped wrap it in nice little gems. To say that she was never able to write perfect pop songs

On her 1993 debut, Exile in Guyville, Phair's gruff voice wrapped awkward non-hooks around flimsy, transparent chord progressions, resulting in (to everyone's surprise) a certifiable indie roadtrip classic. It still stands as a powerfully confrontational album, skirting convention yet marked by Phair's striking awareness of her own limitations.

I like this early pattern of putting down Phair's talent. Non-hooks? Transparent chord progressions? So, the progressions aren't even there? This is retarded. Please learn how to write about music. And wait, "indie roadtrip classic?" Why is it only roadtrip worthy?

Unfortunately, it seems that Phair has spent the better part of her post-Exile career trying to gloss over the very limitations that made her original statement so profound. Though her second album, Whip-Smart, had a few choice moments which recalled the insight and complexity of Exile, it ultimately seemed like a much more calculated affair.

I can't say this enough, but, what the fuck? He just said that Exile was full of non-hooks, and was apparently transparent. How did it suddenly become complex and insightful? Are you paying attention to what you're writing?

Things didn't start to go horribly awry, of course, until Phair's next album, Whitechocolatespaceegg. That record's attempts to radio-ize her sound only dismantled the depth of her music-- if not the awkwardness-- resulting in an odd batch of songs that perhaps encapsulated Phair's faulty view of what constitutes a radio-friendly album.

This is such a clusterfuck. I need to go back and figure out what the F he's talking about

Exile In Guyville - imperfect, gruff, full of awkward non-hooks, flimsy, transparent, limited, insightful, complex, deep

Read that again. He's describing the same album, and no, it's not complimentary. Does he like the album? Does he hate it? This is crap. This guy is writing an entirely schizophrenic piece. Within the first two paragraphs he's contradicting himself. Awful.

And he hasn't even touched the record he's supposed to be REVIEWING yet! This is madness!

Ten years on from Exile, Liz has finally managed to achieve what seems to have been her goal ever since the possibility of commercial success first presented itself to her: to release an album that could have just as easily been made by anybody else.

I'm pretty sure that wasn't her goal. She just did, so deal with it. Oh yeah, you're just filling this review with empty anti-mainstream rhetoric, so what's the point?

Even the songs on Liz Phair that could be considered "shocking" or "profound" are gratuitous and overdetermined, eschewing the stark and accusatory insights of Exile in favor of pointless f-bombs, manipulative ballads, and foul-mouthed shmeminism.

You threw a lot of big words in there, but what are you saying? Anything about the music? Maybe? Anytime soon?

Liz Phair has always been known for her vulgarity, but on Exile and parts of Whip-Smart, she put that trait to good use. On "Fuck and Run", a standout from Exile, Phair used the word's negative connotations as a means of pointed self-deprecation and lamented, "Whatever happened to a boyfriend/ The kind of guy who makes love cause he's in it/ I want a boyfriend/ I want all that stupid old shit/ Letters and sodas."

Hi, my name is Matt LeMay. I'm in love with the past. I want to always live in 1994. I want Liz Phair posters hanging above my bed. I can't come to terms with my sex rock idol selling out and making a cheesy rock record, so I give the album a 0.0 because I'm an idiot. Also, I apparently have no idea how to talk about music without using vague adjectives that better describe articles of clothing.

"Flower", Phair's most notorious track to date, reads like a laundry list of graphic sexual desires, but rather than paint a uniformly flattering portrait of her love interest, he's immature, he's obnoxious, and despite it all, she still wants to fuck his brains out-- a simple, necessarily crude semi-contradiction that speaks volumes.

OK, I get it now. Matt LeMay is immature, obnoxious, and still gets jiggy with rando girls. Liz was the only rocker who got him. I now understand his problems with this album. Oh yeah, he's STILL NOT TALKING ABOUT THE NEW RECORD.

"Flower" would seem to have a descendent in "H.W.C." ("Hot White Cum"), in which Phair extols the virtue of semen as a beauty aid ("...Dear Cosmo: Splooge, The New Rouge!"). But, unlike the complex, alternatingly cocky and self-effacing sexuality of "Flower," "H.W.C."'s unqualified sperm-praise is entirely vain and degrading. Even more degrading is the constipated donkeyfuck harmonica solo towards the track's end, a hilarious sideshow that only magnifies the triteness of the song's glycerin-slick production.

Alright, I'll at least concede that the donkeyfuck harmonica thing is funny, but can I point out that he referred to none of the music on the track? Anything? Guitars, bass, keyboards, fucking kazoo? I don't think that's unreasonable to ask for in a music review.

Though "H.W.C." is without question the best water-cooler conversation piece on Liz Phair, "Rock Me" makes for a close second. Here, Phair sings exuberantly about the benefits of an affair with a younger guy including-- I shit you not-- "[playing] Xbox on [his] floor." In between choruses of, "Baby baby baby if it's alright/ Want you to rock me all night," Phair declares, "I'm starting to think that young guys rule!" without a trace of self-doubt or reflection.

Here we go, another specific song mentioned. He has an entire paragraph to mention a single note of the music and he strikes out. I know the music is trite and recycled, but can you at least write that out? It would help.

It's hard to imagine that the Liz Phair of ten years ago wouldn't have had something profound and devastating to say about older women who shack up with clueless college kids, but on "Rock Me"-- as on the rest of Liz Phair-- vapid, clich�-filled rhyme couplets dominate.

What? Isn't it "profound" to say that she wants to suck off a young dude? Isn't that well within her crude/saucy tastes? He's really sticking to the lyrics here when I'd like to hear about the music.

Take, for example, the album's first single, "Why Can't I", "co"-written by Avril Lavigne songwriting team The Matrix. With a chorus of, "Why can't I breathe whenever I think about you?" and a cookie-cutter rock/pop background, the song could easily pass for Michelle Branch. The lyric, "We haven't fucked yet/ But my head's still spinning," seemingly seeks to set Phair apart from the teen-pop crowd, but the use of the word is completely gratuitous-- change it to "kissed" and stick a 16-year-old girl in front of the mic and no one could tell the difference.

Awesome. He finally talked about music, using the "cookie-cutter" thing. I know that the music is formulaic, but that's just half-assed at this point. I've already waxed poetic about this shit, everyone knows it happens. Liz Phair ages, needs money, tries to make a crossover record, perhaps for her and her daughter's well-being. That's all you had to write. I know it sucks when artists do this, but it happens. The cash comes-a-callin'. If you watched TV for 24 hours you can hear 10 Who songs, I guarantee it.

Only on "Little Digger" does Phair attempt to tackle subject matter unique to the circumstances of her own life as a 36-year-old single mother. The song has received positive press for addressing a difficult issue, as Phair sings to her son about his absent father and the new men she's dating. But the fact that anything positive could be said about this track speaks only to the overwhelming lack of substance on this record. From its cloying synthstring arrangements to its ballad-in-a-box drumbeat to its infuriatingly manipulative chorus of, "My mother is mine," "Little Digger" offers up all the insight and emotion of a UPN sitcom.

Woo hoo!! Synthstrings and a drumbeat! Let the music review begin!!

In recent interviews, Phair has been upfront about her hopes of mainstream success, and claims full awareness that Liz Phair is likely to alienate many of her original fans.

Notice the use of "claim". It means that Liz might not know what she's doing, which is preposterous. Do you honestly think someone can make an album of cloying sound-alike mainstream tracks without realizing the intent/impact? You're wrong.

What she doesn't seem to realize is that a collection of utterly generic rocked-out pop songs isn't likely to win her many new ones[fans]. It's sad that an artist as groundbreaking as Phair would be reduced to cheap publicity stunts and hyper-commercialized teen-pop.

Remember what I said about the Who? How about the Eagles? The Beatles? The Rolling Stones? ELO? The Kinks? Elvis? The Fall?

What do they all have in common? All of them are groundbreaking. And they all have sold their songs to terrible commercials, usually ones involving cars driving around and a voice-over saying something about APR. I'd say that's a cheap publicity stunt, and it's hyper-commercialized. So, are you going to write about that shit as well? I thought not.

But then, this is "the album she has always wanted to make"-- one in which all of her quirks and limitations are absorbed into well-tested clich�s, and ultimately, one that may as well not even exist.

Hold it against her, man. Really, she let you down, shattered your expectations, you know, the ones you set in your head 10 years ago? Also, Matt, she's never going to fuck you, so let it go.

Next time you give a musical recording a 0 out of 10, list the musical reasons. Don't list shit about how she let you down. Save it for the Waahhhmbulance, dude.

1 comment:

sc said...

Ha!!! I have been studying this Pitchfork review myself and I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds it ridiculous. It's not that I love the 2003 album. And I don't even know how much influence Pitchfork has at the end of the day so I don't want to give them more fuel by belaboring this. But it is a pathetic piece of writing (and an especially pathetic piece of music writing), and you nailed it saying that, well, LeMay wanted to *nail* her, never got his chance... now he can pretend he finds her disgusting as a way of feeling superior.. he can punish her for leaving the fold. Ew.

Love your blog... came across it via Google... I googled "donkeyfuck" to see how else this phrase is used.