Exile In Guyville (2018 Remaster)

Exile In Guyville (2018 Remaster)

When it landed in 1993, a peak moment for the importance of attendant narratives in the clumsily bustling indie-rock landscape, Exile in Guyville was inseparable from its mythology. With some variation, the short version went something like this: Rough four-track demo from a suburban Chicago dilettante makes the rounds and builds buzz and nets out as a song-by-song response to the musty machismo of Exile on Main St., and also there’s lots of cussing. The truth is both more and less complicated than that, but more importantly, it doesn’t really matter. For all the stoned nights spent trying to divine connections between the 18 tracks on each album, three decades on, Guyville has its own legacy separate from—and no less towering—than its louche namesake. Under the closest scrutiny, the album never really scanned comment on or about any particular sacred cow; it was never about the Stones so much as it was, and is, about the kind of men who made the idea of the Stones a lifestyle and a philosophy and a business plan. Ultimately, the impact wasn’t the way songs specifically reflected or refracted previous songs; the mere fact of this album’s existence was response enough. Largely unadorned, with Phair accompanying herself on electric guitar or piano with some percussion, the album is sparse but feels nothing like folky coffeehouse fare or acoustic, earnest soul-baring; it’s more like a blistering rock album boiled down to its essence, and that essence is really just her. Phair was famously ambivalent about playing live, which in itself was an anathema to the get-in-the-van DIY ethic that dominated early-’90s indie culture, but it’s not like the songs exhibited studio fussiness; the songs were made to play live—she just didn’t necessarily feel like it. And for all the attention and excited pearl-clutching around “F*ck and Run” and “Flower,” it’s a mistake to make Exile in Guyville’s reputation for brutal frankness about the sex. Thirty years later, nothing still stings like the entirety of “Divorce Song,” mining a doomed road trip for every excruciating detail. And no line about being a blowjob queen can compete with this for raising a gasp: “And the license said you had to stick around until I was dead/But if you’re tired of looking at my face, I guess I already am.” For younger generations inured to f-words in their pop songs, the appeal of Liz Phair was not rooted in Exile in Guyville or its baggage. She is seen, rightfully, as a survivor and not an avatar of a long-lost moment. Her polished, pop-leaning 2003 self-titled album was maligned by the same people who considered her debut 10 years earlier to be a monument to simplicity and honesty and establishing a new norm outside the nakedly commercial. But more to the point, Liz Phair isn’t beholden to Exile in Guyville for her deserved reputation anymore; the album’s most impressive legacy may be that this is just how albums can be.

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