Liz Phair first surfaced as a member of indie-rock's great indoors, turning her home recordings into a couple of 1991 cassetes under the name Girly Sound. These tapes were strange contraptions, the sound of a mysterious artiste echoing the spidery guitars of New Zealand folk-rock while declaring "I'll fuck you and your girlfriend too", from a protective cloud of tape hiss. The muffled strumming resembled Tall Dwarfs or the Cannanes, except that Phair sang like Peppermint Patty on a bad caffeine jag. Phair went public with Exile in Guyville (a song-by-song response to Pussy Galore's Exile on Main Street), inventing herself as a diva dentata: half sensitive folksinger, half persona pirate. Exile in Guyville would have been memorable for its melodies alone, but it revitalized its old-fashioned songcraft with a jolt of personality crisis. In the New York Dolls tradition, Phair's specialty was gernder trouble, turning Mick Jagger into Salome in "Dance of the Seven Veils" and turning Clint Eastwood into a porn queen in her sleeve photos. Phair plots an Aviance night in the madrigal "Flower" (with the "you and your girlfriend" line unfortunately amended to "you and your minions"), enjoys cunnilingus in "Glory", and plays guitar hero in "Stange Loop". "Fuck and Run" borrows fragile chords from the Only Ones to wish for a loyal boyfriend; the very next song, "Girls! Girls! Girls!", borrows lyrics from Jim Croce in order to tell a loyal boyfriend that she doesn't care wherher he comes, stays, lays, or prays. Phair's jagged guitar hooks provide the momentum, but her mind games liberate the guitar hooks from the enervating air of singer-songwriter simpiness. A true code-fucker, Phair makes her mess and leaves it for the audience to clean up.


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