Liz Phair: Nashville

in 1993, Liz Phair could do no wrong. Her Stones-skewing, Pazz & Jop-topping debut seemed to usher in a renaissance of distaff rock, while Liz herself basked in the Next Big Thing glow. Ten years and countless “blowjob queen” jokes later, she was a critical piñata, with a Matrix-helmed single prominently featured in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton. It’s not of concern here whether Phair’s career has proven a disappointing downward spiral from day-one (as some would argue), or whether she’s simply (and admirably) done her own thing, heedless of ‘cred issues or projected expectations. What matters is that, in between Exile in Guyville and Liz Phair, she managed to produce one of the most legitimately perfect songs ever put to record.

“Nashville” opens with a shimmering, relaxed, nearly minute-long instrumental passage. Then, around the 55-second mark, her vocal comes in:
They don't know what they like so much about it
They just go for any shiny old bauble
And nobody sparkles like you
Earlier on her sophomore record, 1994’s Whip-Smart, she announced, “I have looked all over the place / But you have got my favorite face,” while also noting of her new-found mate, “you fuck like a volcano and you’re everything to me.” Up until she went and devoted a song to the wonders of “H.W.C.,” Liz did dirty better than anyone else in the game, “Flower” notwithstanding. Material that, in lesser hands, would’ve registered as merely prurient or down-right juvenile, Phair imbued with a natural sort of glee and even grace, whether warning that she’s “a real cunt in spring” or noting the plus-side of taking it from behind (“that way we can fuck and watch TV”).

When it comes to writing about the Big Two (love and sex, duh), Liz is her generation’s premier lyricist, rivaled only by, if anyone, Lucinda Williams and John Darnielle. What all three clearly get is that the magic is in the details, sweating the small stuff, painting The Big Picture in modest (but precise) strokes.
But I can't imagine it in better terms
Then naked, half-awake, about to shave and go to work
This is cinematic songwriting in the best sense. Phair doesn’t overreach by attempting to cram Dr. Zhivago into four minutes and forty-two seconds. Instead, we get a snapshot—at most, a brief scene. Personally, I always think of one of those indelible static shots that Tsai Ming-liang loves so much: two people ostensibly lost in thought, seemingly effortlessly composed within the frame, filmed from an interesting angle. It’s fleeting, by nature, but lovely while it lasts, and often more poignant from the vantage point of memory.
And I'm starting to think it could happen to me like it did to you
And I'm starting to actually feel it seep through the slick divide now
I don't crack the door too far for anyone who's pushing too hard on me
This is what they’re thinking, of course—whose mind has this particular thought not crossed, at one point or another? You’re hesitant to dive head-first into full-on intimacy because, well, you’ve been there before. Things have turned out badly. You’ve been burned. And as your skin has thickened, you’ve grown more skeptical of those butterflies that reside in the pit of your stomach before the daunting challenge of familiarity inevitably rears its head. But at this moment, “naked, half-awake, about to shave and go to work,” it all feels so totally right that you’re seriously tempted—perhaps against your better judgment—to let your guard down and just make googly eyes right back at her all morning.

Buy it at Insound!

By: Josh Timmermann
Published on: 2005-08-31
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