In 1993, Liz Phair established a career’s worth of Indie cred and bitch-slapped the often misogyny-streaked Rolling Stones with Exile in Guyville, her swaggering, estrogen-and-profanity-laced manifesto. Unfortunately, Phair’s subsequent pursuit and capture of commercial success assured that no monumental follow-up would be forthcoming. Funstyle doesn’t fit that bill either, but it might be the most freewheeling and uninhibited set Phair has attempted since her high profile debut.
Phair released Funstyle on her own, as new ex-label ATO was unwilling to take a chance on her bold direction. After starting with “Smoke” and “Bollywood,” Laurie Anderson-flecked Rap-meets-SNL-doing-M.I.A.-spoof numbers essentially detailing the aging Phair’s predicament of trying to remain relevant in an ever-changing youth culture, Funstyle settles into slightly more conventional Pop mode, strewn with Phair’s patented war-of-the-sexes observations (from “Miss September”: “I’ve been in this Garden of Eden a long time/And I’ve never seen Adam do anything I understand”), a Funk/Soul workout (“My My”) and some of Phair’s best songs in years (“Bang Bang,” “And He Slayed Her”).
Funstyle is classic Phair: polarizing, self-indulgent, brilliant, crap, often in a relatively alien sonic atmosphere. It’s not nearly as bad as the haters would have you believe but clearly too much a novelty to be fully embraced.