Exile in Familyville

Liz Phair - whitechocolatespaceegg
(Matador Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)

By Tony Bonyata

It's been 5 years since Liz Phair exploded on the music scene with her impressive debut Exile in Guyville, an edgy little rock album that not only help usher in a bevy of other chicks-with-attitudes throughout the 90's but also, finally, along with neighboring alt-rockers Smashing Pumpkins, help put Chicago on the rock music map. Now after a four year hiatus from the music world, with a new husband and child in tow, she's back.
Phair grew up in Winnetka, Illinois, studied art in college and moved to San Francisco where she immersed herself in a Bohemian artist lifestyle for two years. Moving back to Chicago in the early 90's she traded in her art for her newfound love of music. Her initial demos, recorded in her Wicker Park apartment, impressed Matador Records who quickly snapped her up. After the release of Guyville, Phair followed it up with the million selling album Whip Smart in 1994.
Without nary a word from her since Whip Smart's release Phair vanished out of the spotlight she was thrust into, and settled down and married film editor Jim Staskausas and had a son with him in 1996.
It seems, with the release of her long anticipated album whitechocolatespaceegg, that her exploration into domestic bliss has done her a world of good. Although she has toned down some of her younger post-feminist rebellion, Phair still manages to exude an edge and honest frankness to an album that is otherwise dominated with love, marriage and the ups and downs of family life.
With a straight-ahead, no-nonsense rock band (guitar, bass and drums, occasionally spiced with accordion, bongos and keyboards) Phair offers up the 90's style pop gems "Big Tall Man" and the sunny sounding "Ride", complete with swirling choruses and Phair's driving acoustic guitar. With a howling harmonica and a cocky western rhythm stomp you can practically smell the campfire beans burning on "Baby Got Going", while an ominous bass-line dominates the catchy melody of "Headache". And on "Only Son" she again pays homage to the Rolling Stones with a rousing ending that is more than reminiscent of the Glimmer Twins "Happy" (her first nod was taking her debut title from the Stones' Exile On Main Street).
Delving into her relationship with men Phair declares on the happy little tune "Johnny Feelgood" that she doesn't mind getting slapped around by the man she loves. The delicious number "Polyester Bride" finds her questioning herself, under the guise of a local bartender friend, on her decision to wed, she finds the answer, however, from her mother's words of approval on "What Makes You Happy".
With a freckles-n-all, girl-next-door voice and smart lyrics with an attitude Phair's whitechocolatespaceegg is a welcome breath of fresh air amidst all the mediocre not- so-alternative rock girls that have dominated the charts since her exile into familyville.

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