“Whip-Smart” by Liz Phair (No. 80)
Posted On 23 July 2016
Liz Phair‘s Whip-Smart is a perfect Saturday afternoon album. By happy accident, that’s when I’m re-listening to Whip-Smart and writing this post.
Whip-Smart is not a radio-friendly album, unless the radio station is an early 90s alt-rock station with a penchant for pissing off the FCC. Unusual at the time, Phair drops more than a few f-bombs on Whip-Smart, and Phair’s songwriting doesn’t produce a lot of accessible tunes ready to push out as a single anyway.
Sure, “Supernova,” is an exception to this rule. Clocking in at just 2:48, it sports a chunky, fuzzed out guitar hook that makes the song as crowd-pleasing as they come.
Change of Pace
But many of the tracks on Whip-Smart are ethereal and un-rushed. More like vignettes or short stories with a backing track. Phair’s delivery alternates between hushed and vulnerable and the confident alt-rock goddess.
“Cinco De Mayo,” is a more straight-forward rocker with Phair’s trademark off-key delivery and garage band sound. “Dogs of L.A.” is somewhere between the lands of ethereal and off-key garage rock.
Then there’s the title track for the album, “Whip-Smart.” Easily one of my favorite Phair songs, it’s a song about how she plans to raise her son, someday. The chorus is irresistible, and it’s just a magnificent track all around.
“Jealousy” is another more direct number, with a heavy bass throb and loose rhythm guitar. Phair is wrestling with the green-eyed monster in this one, singing:
I can’t believe you had a life before me
I can’t believe they let you run around free
Just putting your body wherever it seemed like a good idea
If you’re new to Phair, give it a chance, then dig out Exile in Guyville and the rest of her catalog. Sadly, it’s a bit slim – Phair has only put out six full-length albums since Exile in 1993. Say what you will about Phair, she doesn’t hold back. Maybe that’s why I enjoy Whip-Smart so much: It’s raw, unfiltered, and deeply personal. Its lack of polish is a feature, not a bug. On repeated listens, it gets even better.