An icon of the 1990s, Liz Phair released two misguided albums last decade. On both of those recordings, the sexual doubts and bravado that made Exile in Guyville feel personal and real became a tawdry shtick. Capitol Records, which not so brilliantly had Phair work with Britney Spears' production team in 2003, was largely to blame.
Funstyle is the first artistically redeeming work Phair has released since 1998's whitechocolatespaceegg. Maybe that's because it's not on Capitol Records. You won't find this self-released album in stores or on iTunes. You can only buy it at lizphair.com for the non-record-industry price of $5.99.
The album is a mix of novelty songs, in the best sense of the word, and well-written acoustic pop. Yes, Phair raps on the frenetic story song, "Bollywood." Her verses ponder the odds of a career comeback: "I was trippin' lookin' at my portfolio, wondering how I'm gonna make enough dough you know." By the end of the track, she's symbolically severed her ties with major labels, leaving an unsuspecting recording executive "face down and feet turning blue" in her backyard pool.
She wastes no time reclaiming her muse. "Satisfied" returns to the bittersweet reflections on relationships, identity and happiness that once gave her music substance. It's a breezy pop song fueled by a rising chorus laced with angst: "You've got the world at your feet, with everything you need, but tell me are you satisfied?"
On her website, Phair says these songs made her lose her management and her record deal. But she also professes "these songs are all me." That's what's been missing from her music the past dozen years. With Funstyle, the Liz Phair who makes great music is back.