Confession: I still subscribe to Support System, the Liz Phair email listserv that I joined sometime in college when I discovered, and fell hard for, Exile in Guyville. Generally it’s pretty quiet; the only buzz in the last year was around the 20th anniversary of her debut album, as links to various nostalgic pieces about the record (including our own) were passed around. Late last night, however, an email appeared from a self-professed recent Liz Phair fan who provided links to two YouTube videos, claiming to reveal the existence of two unreleased songs presumably recorded for her last album, Funstyle.
Funstyle was self-released unexpectedly over Fourth of July weekend in 2010; months later, indie label My Rocket Science released a physical version of the album, which included a bonus disc of Phair’s pre-Guyville demo recordings (commonly known, at least among the biggest Liz Phair fans, as the Girly-Sound recordings). The album wasn’t particularly well-received, but those who did appreciate it saw it as an experimental exercise for Phair to reclaim her original DIY roots with pop production values.
Last year, Phair released a video for the song “And He Slayed Her” (her diss track about Capitol Records executive Andy Slater, with whom she had a contentious working relationship). It was odd timing, as most artists don’t film music videos for two-year-old singles. Since then, we haven’t heard much from Phair other than some musings on her Twitter account.
Which is why the sudden discovery of these allegedly three-year-old songs is a bit of a surprise.
The first, “Woman,” posted online at the end of June, opens with the sound of a long bong rip before transitioning into an drum machine-backed track with lyrics like, “Let me tell you, Big Brother / I don’t answer to you, I answer to another.” It certainly fits into the overarching theme of Funstyle — Liz Phair fighting back against the music industry that pigeonholed her after her initial indie-rock stardom — but in the context of Phair’s femininity in a society ruled by men.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wq6uM73BLn4]
The second video, “Real Goodbye,” posted about a week later, features a still frame of Phair applying lipstick and sporting post-shower wet hair. Superimposed in bright pink, bold-faced font is the phrase, “You were never supposed to hear these songs” (referencing the manifesto, of sorts, that she posted to her website when she originally released Funstyle online). It’s a somber ballad that looks back at a past relationship (using a “Dear John” conceit).[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oErEUXewgv8]
That these two recordings seemingly came out of nowhere three years after Funstyle‘s release is surprising given Liz Phair’s fans, who for years have passed around demo recordings not just from her early-’90s, pre-Guyville years in San Francisco, but also from later records like whitechocolatespaceegg and her eponymous pop album from 2004. While her obsessive followers might have gotten older, the Internet has only made sharing these songs even easier.
My immediate reaction to these recordings, assuming they’re for real, was to wonder whether they’re actually newer than three years old. They sound pretty polished and, well, better than a lot of the songs that made it onto Funstyle. (They’re by no means reminiscent of her greatest songs, but, for what it’s worth, she’s not rapping on these tracks.) If they were recorded for the album, why didn’t they appear on it? Were they actually recorded for Funstyle? Who knows?
I’ve contacted Phair’s publicist for confirmation that the tracks really are Liz Phair recordings, as well as additional information about their age or origin and have yet to receive a response. While a guerrilla marketing campaign for new Liz Phair material seems a little far-fetched, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to expect something new from the singer-songwriter? After all, some Liz Phair is better than no Liz Phair at all.
UPDATE: A representative from Liz Phair’s PR team confirms that the songs are indeed Liz Phair and from the Funstyle sessions, but they were not put online by her or anyone from her management.