A deeper look at Liz Phair’s underrated third LP
She rode a motorcycle, which she called “Bitch.” I wish I could remember her name, but all I remember is her “Bitch” (which I don’t think I ever saw), and her going in and out of the room opposite mine in the hallway.
I showed her the magazine picture of Liz Phair holding a plastic heart (a realistic human heart, not the Valentine manfestation) over her real heart, covered by skin and bra (visible), and viscera (not). I thought that was witty. I thought I was flirting. (I know, I know.)
“So, like with her, you would have to know it’s important, that she hasn’t made a record in awhile,” she summed up Liz Phair. Hopeless at reading people, I could still bristle at a brushoff. But we shared a corridor, a tiny bathroom, a cheerfully reptilian landlord who jacked the rent every six weeks or so. She disappeared after a time, presumably on Bitch. I later lived in that room, which at least gave me more sun and room for my turntable by my bed.
The record Liz Phair hadn’t made in awhile turned out to be whitechocolatespaceegg, that title another mystery I’ll never solve, thirty years old this August 11th. “Yes, but I’ll be shocked if it’s any good,” wrote Glenn McDonald (formerly glenn mcdonald), a man I admired, envied, and stayed up very late for, as I waited for his next “The War Against Silence” column to drop online.
“I think she’s over with,” Glenn concluded.
And I admit, I shared his skepticsm. We were both positively shocked. Oh, she’d talked dirty before, but she’d never sung “ex-wife” to sound almost exactly like “asswipe.” She’d created characters before, running afoul of folks who view all first-person as confessional, but she hadn’t given us a woman who likes being knocked around, and not knowing exactly where, when, or how much she’d be knocked around.
“Big Tall Man” mixes first lines of abandoned haiku (“Sand on the beach”) as long build, then a pounding chorus of release-as-transcendence, “like relieving a headache,” tacked on to the end as a joke. Seriously, though, relief from pain still counts as relief, and release. Whether that’s transcendence, ecstacy, sexual climax, or other bodily functions.
“Polyester Bride” gives a woman who may or may not be the singer, and her bartender friend, who has a man’s name so I’m assuming he’s a man. And the bartender’s an asshole sometimes. The woman wants to know why “there are those kind of men.” The bartender calls her lucky, he likes her, he wants her, he can’t get rid of the bar between them, but he gets her drinks for free, and what more does she want?
And he lays out a few things for choices, for desires. Settle, that’s one. Find happiness in settling. Consumer products, do they actually factually manifest evil? Aren’t they more than a lot of people have?
Or, “Do you want to flap your wings and fly away, from here?”
And that’s the snap, end of chorus. The release. But you can see the bartender’s points of view. He’s right and he’s wrong, and so is the woman he calls “Princess.”
But heck, you want to fall back on binary release, you can. I sometimes do. She builds “Big Tall Man” by breathing, “I’m drag racing, drag…”—and those engines growl up.
If I squint into the mix, I think I can find “Bitch” in there.