Not so well! The strange trajectory of Liz Phair’s career has been sketched out many times, and here goes once more: Phair moved gradually from early nineties indie queen with Exile in Guyville to the subject of outright derision with 2003’s Liz Phair, a glossed-up effort that featured a handful of tracks from the pop radio songwriting team the Matrix, then dipped subtly back into an angry nation’s good graces just by reissuing and touring behind Guyville a few years back. And now her new album Funstyle — a surprise release posted directly to her website over this holiday weekend — is pissing people off again. That’s mostly thanks to its single, “Bollywood,” a super-goofy two and a half minutes in which Phair narrates a sort of explanation of how she ended up composing music for USA’s In Plain Sight over a bhangra beat. Or, as the Internet knows it, “the song where Liz Phair raps.”
The time has long passed since bashing Liz Phair for not sounding like the Liz Phair of yore was considered clever or fashionable or even remotely necessary, and so instead of lamenting the loss of “Explain It To Me” Liz, let’s just focus on this Liz, and this song, which is, well, I don’t know what the hell it is. What is this?! Is it a rap? Is it a dance song? Is it a skit? Is someone talking to her? Who is talking? What is happening here?!?
And in a sort of retort, the L.A. Times Ann Powers actually listened to the whole thing and offers a much kinder review.
Whatever form these songs take, they’re uniformly inventive and individualistic — Phair’s ongoing project of remaking pop’s central sounds and stories in her own image. Someday, I’ll bet, we’ll look back at her whole catalog and see how smart and defiant and insistently herself she always was. “Funstyle” is not quite like any other pop album you’ll hear this year. You might think it’s terrible. But you shouldn’t overlook it.
So, does Liz Phair deserve a tip of the hat for continuing on doing whatever the hell she wants? Or has she once again stomped all over her loving fans, this time without even the help of Avril Lavigne’s songwriters? The one thing Vulture would like to add to the conversation — as you make your decision, please don’t be overly influenced by the phrase “Liz Phair raps”; it’s really more “talking” than anything, like that song “Detachable Penis,” say, or the chatter on Weezer’s “Undone (The Sweater Song).” (Also, there’s a part on Funstyle’s “Smoke” where Phair goes “I don’t know John Mayer … I met him,” and it’s pretty funny). Okay, here’s “Bollywood”: