Liz Phair

Funstyle

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AllMusic Review by

No other ‘90s indie rocker faced such scorn as Liz Phair for turning mainstream. The wrath was vicious and sustained, perhaps because Phair decided to go all-in, courting a crossover audience who'd never even heard of Exile in Guyville, going so far as having the Matrix collaborate on her eponymous 2003 album -- a sell-out that sold only modestly and alienated scores of fans who had celebrated her perhaps a bit too vocally ten years earlier. Liz Phair caused a commotion but its placid, 2005 sequel Somebody’s Miracle was so uneventful it passed largely unnoticed. Funstyle, released suddenly on Independence Day weekend 2010 -- the timing a not so hidden celebration of her return to the minor leagues -- flips Somebody’s Miracle on its head: it’s unafraid of risk and embarrassment, an album that’s impossible to ignore even if it is easy to hate. Certainly, most of the initial reviews complained vociferously about Phair’s comically exaggerated white girl rapping on “Bollywood,” itself one of many direct attacks on a music industry that never figured out how to turn her into a commodity. Phair isn’t biting the hand that feeds -- she’s severed herself from Capitol and released Funstyle as a digital download on her own site -- so she’s free to attack, free to fall flat on her face (which she often does often but almost always knowingly); she’s smart enough to know rhyming “portfolio” and “dough you know” -- not to mention “I think I’m a genius/you’re being a penis” -- are silly, and she surrounds these with goofy, synthesized rhythms, the kind that are easy to knock out quickly on a computer. After years -- nearly a decade, really -- of slick calculation, it’s actually terribly refreshing to hear Phair so loose, even if it can induce cringes on occasion. Better still, the looseness carries over to the straighter moments of Funstyle -- the lazy lope of “Miss September,” the circular riffs of “Oh, Bangladesh,” the grinding power pop of “And He Slayed Her” (admittedly, the latter is another swipe at her former label) -- giving it a ragged, human messiness so missing in everything she’s made since Whip-Smart. Not everything here works, not by a long shot, but the overall impression is that Liz Phair has finally reconnected with the spirit of Girlysound -- which, contrary to popular opinion, wasn’t all serious -- and is on her way to once again being a compelling artist unafraid to take risks.

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