A lot has changed since Liz Phair’s trailblazing debut, Exile in Guyville, surfaced in 1993. That year, Bill Clinton swept into office as our youngest President since JFK. Kurt Cobain and Nirvana dropped its final studio album, In Utero. CityBeat was a year away from publishing its first issue. (For those who might have forgotten, Exile topped that year’s Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics’ poll, finishing just ahead of In Utero, PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me and The Breeders’ Last Splash.)
Fast forward 25 years: CDs are nearly extinct and cassettes and vinyl are making comebacks; Cobain is a musical deity; Donald Trump, of all people, is our President, defeating Clinton’s wife in the process. And the influence of Liz Phair (who spent some of her upbringing in Cincinnati) is everywhere on a music scene that has become inundated with female talent. (This year alone has delivered excellent new albums from the Phair-minded likes of Speedy Ortiz, Caroline Rose, Mitski, Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy and Lucy Dacus.)
“I’m sort of a feminist spokesmodel for, I guess, putting your voice out there, believing you have something to say and maybe sex-positivity or something,” Phair told The New York Times earlier this year. “I have been placed there because there was a sense that I was the girl next door who just picked up a guitar and went onstage and said what everyone was thinking. And it felt empowering to me and it felt empowering to the people that heard it, especially the women.”
Matador Records’ 25th anniversary reissue of Exile in Guyville — officially dubbed Girly Sound to Guyville in a nod to the bedroom tapes that influenced the album — has kicked off a reemergence of sorts for the now-51-year-old Phair, whose career had been dormant in recent years following a string of glossed-up, mixed-bag records that culminated with 2010’s truly mystifying Funstyle.
As expected, setlists from the accompanying tour lean heavily on songs from Exile with a sprinkling from its two follow-ups, 1994’s Whip-Smart and 1998’s underrated Whitechocolatespaceegg — a trio of career-defining records that remind us how necessary Phair’s unvarnished perspective on relationships and sex was then and remains today.