J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Notes From Underground - #9
Layers of Exile

This week on the show I played Liz Phair's "Never Said Nothing" from her oft lauded debut, Exile in Guyville. Here's what I said in the post:

"this is a record i've thought long and hard about putting up on sunday nights. as she continues to release albums that sort of water down her body of work, i think we're getting further away from people who remember just how amazing her first three records (in my opinion) are. but especially this one. it's so honest and gruff and different sounding from any other record then or now. liz phair forever gets a pass on making more commercial sounding music because of this and its two follow-ups."

Satisfied '75 chirped his agreement in the comments and that was that, but there are a couple of issues at play here.

First, Liz isn't alone in this. Time marches on and artists who come out of the gates firing on all cylinders often end up fading into subsequent, less exciting mist. But right now the number of great albums she's done still outnumbers the mis-fires. But time is also a fickle mistress - that Exile in Guyville was released in 1993, almost 15 years ago, is enough to fade people's memories. With Phair's rep being as an indie-queen anyway, there weren't a terrible lot of people (comparitively) who knew about her in the first place. Exile in Guyville is not a perennial name that gets dropped like Revolver or anything afterall.

So increasingly lesser works + time + limited initial access = a fading reputation. Are situations like Phair's common? How many bands can you think of that came out with at least 2 or 3 decent records as their debut and then saw it all fade? It's probably incredibly common - if a band is able to hold it together that long, it's bound to happen. I have a theory that the average band (not great writers, but the average, decent band) will put out one or two really sharp pieces in their time, and the rest will be water re-treads or else a declining return. I'll go ahead and throw out Weezer as an example of a band that came out gangbusters - even had a sophomore album that was challenging compared to their debut - but then has subsequently turned in nothing but pale imitations of their debut. Who else do you have?

Second, I stated that Liz forever gets a pass for Exile in Guyville. What I mean by that is that that album (and, honestly, its two subsequent ones) were good enough and have given me enough enjoyment over the years, that as a fan, I give her carte blanche with her career. She can do whatever she wants, and I might whine about it a bit, but I'm never going to be severely critical. (Of course, who am I to tell her what to do? That's our role as music fans though - if you're reading this blog, you're probably enough of a music geek to know the inherent control we feel we ought to have over artists' output, though we realize the ridiculous nature of that feeling.) She made an active (and somewhat understandable) decision to pursue a more commercial oriented path with her more recent records. She found some success, probably not as much as she'd like (or deserves), but some. Are there artists you have the same feeling about - who did something amazing enough at some point that you curtail your critique of subsequent releases?

Finally, for those who think I'm being too critical of Miss Phair, and as a way to brag just a bit, here's a picture of Liz right around the release of her 4th (and first really not so great) album:




See? I can forgive and forget. And in case you're wondering, I had to kneel down a good bit to get that photo. When she sings "And I kept standing 6'1" instead of 5'2"," she wasn't lying.

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