Monday, July 21, 1997

Phair Haired and Flowing Free

One of the aftermath side effects I get after attending a live concert is the realization that the personal creative impulses aren't exactly flowing or being utilized in my day to day life. After listening to a great artist perform it makes me want to return to the part of me that likes to be creative. Yet it isn't like there is an on and off switch that regulates the flow of creativity, you either are inspired, bothered, blessed, and talented enough to do something worthwhile, or you are not.

Hopefully this isn't a permanent condition. Hopefully those creative embers are lying low and rejuvenating themselves and soon the stream will flow freely again. I must admit that the most creatively satisfied I feel these days is after I mow my lawn. Not being the most conventional lawn mower it is a nice feeling to look at my lawn, a mixture of grass, crabgrass, mushrooms and dandelions, all freshly cut, with my unmistakable mark woven into the rich green.

One of the privileges of being the high ranking government official I am is that I have sources that can obtain for me items not available to just anybody. One such item I was lucky enough to recently get my little hands on was the demos and discarded first studio version of Liz Phair's upcoming CD, whitechocolatespaceegg.

Phair's first CD, Exile in Guyville was a stunningly impressive debut, and still remains on my short list of CDs I would want with me if deserted on some desolate Pacific island. But the follow-up effort, Whip Smart was a bit of a let down. While still a consistently worthwhile listen and a cut above the majority of other music available, it nonetheless lacked the intensity, insight, and personal statement of Exile in Guyville. Like with so many artists on their sophomore efforts, Phair couldn't decide on Whip Smart whether to duplicate the mood and tone from the first CD and risk the charge of copying her success or create something all together different and risk losing contact with the fans. Thus she settled for something in the middle.

The songs on the new CD again don't come near the quality of the first rush of inspiration. Phair's lyrics are a mixture of the obscure, "When they do the double dutch that's them dancing..." to the painfully personal, "And when you said I wasn't worth talking to, I had to take your word on that." The new songs continue in a similar vein. From: "Hey there mister, what'cha gonna do? I'm your sex-o-matic sister running around on vacation. You can take me home but I'll never be your girl" on Headache. To: "I wanna be cool, tall, vulnerable, and luscious. I would have it all if I could only have this much" on Perfect World.

My favorite song among the fifteen tracks is Girls' Room which is an account of the conversation taking place inside the private walls of a place men are not allowed. "I heard Teri say that Trisha's OK. She oughta learn to shave her bikini line better..." Like the songs on her first CD, there is a feeling on many of these new tracks that the songs were written in the privacy of Liz's room where she has a tape recorder running as she is strumming along and singing whatever comes to mind. The songs on Whip Smart seemed less spontaneous and more worked out which made them seem more polished and less personal.

Unfortunately Scott Litt's (who previously worked with REM and Nirvana) production on this discarded version of whitechocolatespaceegg does not work. The intimacy of many tracks is lost under the thrash of guitar licks. Other quiet moments that could use some embellishment to make them stand out more effectively are made to rely on Phair's unremarkable voice. Thus it will be interesting to hear how the final mix turns out. Like the difference between the first and second CD, the growth from the second to the third is a bit lacking.

But the initial disappointment in listening to these tracks is knowing much has happened to the artist since her last CD. Phair was married and then had her first child last December. Those life changing events don't get a mention in any of the songs. Rather what seems to inspire most of the songs just comes in the process of creating and imagining and for somebody who had a lot to say, this somehow isn't enough.

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