MUCIS REVIEW | Liz Phair – Funstyle (2010)


Almost two decades after breaking through with her debut, Liz Phair had a few more stings to her bow, but the results were still recognisable as the same song writer from 1993. Immediately, the deep, rolling synth and sampled vocals let me know that Funstyle is not the lo-fi guitar slinging Liz Phair of Exile in Guyville. It’s also Phair’s way of letting us know that this is something different, blatantly acknowledging that it’s more than likely going to alienate some old fans, but she’s cool with that.

Combing banjo, world beats and some awkward rap and spoken word, Bollywood makes me a little worried about what else Funstyle might have in store. It’s another literal story about Phair, her career and the ups and downs she’s seen in popularity over the years. She’s never been big in disguising her messages or feelings under metaphor and symbolism, but the combination of the on the nose lyrics and middle aged white woman rap is a little too much.

Thank Christ she dusts off the acoustic guitar for You Should Know Me. It’s gentle singer, songwriter stuff. And even with its little production flourishes, it’s the kind of simple, stripped back gear that makes me listen to Liz Phair records. Which she backs up with Satisfied. Maybe the initial songs were just there to make me appreciate these more.

Hopefully that means that the rock, diva-tastic My Life is nothing more than a mid-album pop indulgence that will hopefully lead into more traditional, guitar based stuff. It doesn’t, but Oh, Bangladesh is a great surprise. It’s by far the best combination of the old troubadour Liz Pahir and the newer, heavy production, pop obsessed Liz Phair. It’s epic in sound, but still has classic Liz Phair song writing at its core.

At first, I thought Bang! Bang! Might be the worst Liz Phair song I’ve ever heard. But that didn’t last long, because it’s directly follow by Beat Is Up, the worst Liz Phair song I have ever heard. I might not be a big fan of the other synth/sample heavy songs on Funstyle, but at least I could kind of hear Phair’s ambition on those. Beat Is Up is just so lazy and aimless.

Then, she has another crack at giving me whiplash by going from that train wreck to what might be the best song on the album, Love Song. It’s vintage Liz Phair in lyrics, instrumentation and vocals. It’s as simple as its title and all the better for it. Guitar, piano, drums and Phair’s voice reaching for notes it can’t quite reach. A combination that works just as well on And He Slayed Her to make for a strong finish (as long as you ignore Miss September) after more than a few speed bumps along the way.

There’s definitely an added polish to Liz Phair and Funstyle that didn’t exist on Exile in Guyville. Or even on the albums that followed when she obviously had more money and better studios to work with. I kind of miss that rough edge of the old days. Sure, her voice is stronger now, with a little more range, but that vulnerable sound to her wavering voice in the old days really did add something.

But that’s not nearly enough to make me not like Funstyle. Because it’s still a Liz Phair album, loaded with songs written by Liz Phair. All these years and all these songs in, Phair still knows how to turn a sardonic phrase, shape a catchy melody without sounding like a commercial jingle, and deliver great songs. She just never needs to rap again. Ever, ever again.

Liz Phair

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