Liz Phair is one of those artists that has never quite managed to escape the shadow of the debut album. ‘Exile In Guyville’ is widely considered her best work to date. It won her a place in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003, but like many great albums, was overlooked when released in 1993, only briefly appearing in the charts at position 196 despite strong reviews from the music press.

‘Exile’ was written and recorded after a chance conversation between Phair and Matador Record’s co-president, Gerard Cosloy. Famously, Cosloy had read a review of Phair’s first attempt to put out her own music, under the name Girly Sound, the same day he agreed to take her call. She sent him a tape and he agreed to put out an album.

The most striking thing about ‘Exile’ is its brutal honesty and frank approach to sexuality. Phair was only in her early twenties when she wrote the album yet she has managed to masterfully weave an incredibly insightful web of lyrics. As the album progresses layer upon layer of her fears, insecurities and pressures are stripped away.

At a first listen it almost feels intrusive to hear her yearn for love in ‘Fuck and Run’ while she sings of settling for a one night stand. She sings, in an almost flippant way, of feeling dismissed and used, putting the words to a sunny guitar riff, warm drum beats and bells.

Her seemingly easy approach to such deep and private emotions is one of her most appealing qualities. In ‘Divorce Song’ she chronicles an argument, describing her anger then flipping the view point and predicting that the protagonist will tire of looking at her face, a painful prediction of what love has to offer.

It isn’t only Phair’s words that strike a chord in ’Exile’. The music wraps around the lyrics giving them an even deeper clarity. Many of her guitar riffs are warm and treacly. ’Glory’ is one track where the music leaves the words behind. Guitar and keyboard are layered up and despite only being 1.29 minutes long this is one of the brightest glimmers of the album.

Phair creates her own brand of rock. ‘Johnny Sunshine’ loops two verses over one another, then slows the pace into a delicate outro as metallic guitar chords ring out and drums pound.

With ‘Stratford-On-Guy’ Phair describes the view when flying in to Chicago. She paints a blue green sunset, as “landscape rolls out like credits on a film.” It is reminiscent of any long journey where the mind wonders and thoughts run away.

The re-issue of ‘Exile’ includes three unreleased tracks. The first, ’Ant In Alaska’ is a gentle folk song accompanied only by acoustic guitar. The words chart an encounter with love and of feeling insignificant in the world. It should have featured on the original album.

‘Say You’ is a reggae influenced song with smoky lyrics. It doesn’t quite fit the tone of the album but stands nicely alone. The final unreleased track, an instrumental, has the air of an unfinished song. The guitar jogs along nicely but the words are notably absent.

The re-issue also comes with a documentary DVD filmed by Phair herself. She interviews key people who were involved with the making of the record as well as musicians that were part of her ‘scene’ while she was first performing. It is a nice addition to the album with some interesting insights from those involved with it. Phair herself is interesting to watch as she asks her questions and is surprisingly open to what her interviewees have to say, even those who thought the album had more potential.

‘Exile’ has aged remarkably, which is a testament to its longevity. Every time I return to it different songs stand out and different lyrics capture my imagination. It’s not surprising it has been re-issued and it wont struggle to find a new generation of fans.











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