"Look, Internet — I've Set Myself On Fire": On Liz Phair's "Funstyle"

for whom is the funstyle fun? Over the weekend, Liz Phair had a surprise: 11 new tracks, collected under the title Funstyle, available for purchase at her official site. This release was surprising for reasons that went far beyond its semi-stealth timing! Seth Colter Walls and I decided to figure out “the deal.”

Maura: OK, I am ready!

Seth: Well if you “are ready” to talk about this then you are ahead of 99% of the people who have listened to this record from Liz Phair, called Funstyle.

Maura: Hahahaha.

Seth: Maura — why did this happen?

Maura: I think I might be one of the few people who doesn’t see Funstyle as a total disaster!

Maura: I actually think it is a pretty interesting “experiment.”

Maura: And there are a few good songs on it!

Maura: But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Seth: I see it as a “welcome disaster.” What do they call it in aggro capitalism? “Creative destruction?” But continue.

Maura: Let us talk about how this all came to be, first!

Seth: Yes.

Maura: So Liz Phair has had something of a long career, especially if you measure it out in Internet-supernova terms. Exile In Guyville, her first album, came out in 1993, after some demos that she made (under the name “Girlysound”) spread their way around the pre-MP3-blog underground. The album was hailed by critics, who loved its vague Rolling Stones motif and Brad Wood’s sinewy production and her salty confessional lyrics, and exploded among women who were (or who claimed to be) influenced by Sassy. It was a pretty giant debut. And it deserved to be!

Maura: She followed that up with a series of albums that had, shall we say, diminishing critical returns — often unfairly so. (I love whitechocolatespaceegg, her 1998 album that dealt a lot with motherhood and that got slammed by lots of critics for reasons that read to these eyes like “You had a kid? Ugh, way to be a bonerkiller.”) But her biggest backlash moment came with 2003’s self-titled album, where she worked with the Avril Lavigne collaborators who go by the name “The Matrix” and sang about playing Xbox while sounding like Hilary Duff. At the time, she said this to EW:

“…I want the other things that go with [stardom]. I want the financial security to stay in California. I’m responsible for my son. I want artistic leverage so if there’s cool stuff I want to do, people will greenlight it. I want a ticket to ride so that I can be creative for a lot longer. Otherwise, honey, I’m back in Chicago living with my parents.”

Maura: But the experiment sorta-failed. And a couple of years later, she put out Somebody’s Miracle, which was mostly offensive because of its blandness. That was followed up by a reissue of Exile, a tour around said reissue, and her legacy exploding, particularly among young women with confessional outposts like blogs.

Maura: Which brings us to Saturday night, when I was sitting on my couch watching “Soapdish.” I glanced at Twitter and saw a Tweet from one Tyler Coates: “Just got an email from the Liz Phair listserv that there’s a new album available to download on LizPhair.com!”

Next: And oh, boy, was there a new album!