Exile in Guyville Turns 20

(Dad, don’t read this.)

If you’ve never heard of Liz Phair’s extraordinary first album Exile in Guyville (which sold under 500,000 copies), it’s okay.

But 20 years ago, it was deeply relevant to a section (an admittedly small section) of the population, namely liberal arts college-attending, sexually active women. And a few indie-minded guys (i.e. these women’s would-be boyfriends). It was ballsy and fucking brilliant. The only other female artist I can think of who comes close to touching on female sexuality as bluntly as Phair is PJ Harvey.

If you are in any shape or form today a hipster (whether male or female), I strongly encourage you to go listen to this album (then also check out Whip-Smart and whitechocolatespaceegg). This is the album that put Matador Records on the map. (Is Matador even still around? I suppose I’ll need to Google that.)

Phair wrote Exile in Guyville as a track-by-track response to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Mainstreet. It’s a no-holds-barred rock-n-roll album that talks frankly and provocatively about female sex and sexuality.

Think I’m exaggerating?

Here’s a sample of lyrics from “Flower”

“Every time I see your face,
I get all wet between my legs…

Every time I see your face,
I think of things unpure, unchaste,
I want to fuck you like a dog,
I’ll take you home and make you like it…

I want to be your blow job queen.”

How about “Fuck and Run” — which is an under-appreciated classic as far as I’m concerned.

“I want a boyfriend, I want a boyfriend
I want all that stupid old shit like
Letters and sodas, letters and soda

I can feel it in my bones
I’m gonna spend another year alone
It’s fuck and run, fuck and run…”

No other woman musician (that I am aware of) sang like this 20 years ago, when I was busy discovering sex. And I don’t think many are singing like this now. (If I am wrong, please let me know in the comments!) I was also discovering the struggle between the desire to be a sexually independent woman and someone who wanted a boyfriend. The “sexual revolution” as it was played out in the very early 1990s for me was a tricky balance beam of owning my sexual freedom and also my desire for a traditional gender relationship.

As Jessica Grose points out in Slate, Phair does other aspects of being a woman well, too. Motherhood, divorce, the desire for marriage (see “Jealousy” from Whip-Smart, and “Polyester Bride” from whitechocolatesspaceegg). But without “Fuck and Run” she wouldn’t have been heard in the first place.

Phair may be one of the reasons I have distain for acts like Taylor Swift and Britney Spears, and a little more patience for Lady Gaga and P!nk. I tend toward more punk-pop and grit (again, see PJ Harvey) than bubble gum. In my humble opinion, Exile in Guyville deserves a revival.

Although I won’t be able to play it in the car for my kids.

My Top 10 Liz Phair Songs

1. Fuck and Run (Exile)
2. Never Said (Exile)
3. Flower (Exile)
4. Canary (Exile)
5. Supernova (Whip-Smart)
6. Jealousy (Whip-Smart)
7. Polyester Bride (whitechocolatespaceegg [wcse])
8. Perfect World (wcse)
9. Big Tall Man (wcse)
10. Little Digger (Liz Phair) (this one will break your heart)


What album that no one else has heard of hit you right between the eyes?