Reissue Tuesday: Liz Phair

Exile in Guyville turned 25 this month and continues to shine.

By Tim Craig

Released in 1993 — a year that bought us Nirvana’s In Utero, Uncle Tupelo’s Anodyne, and Enter the Wu-Tang (and everything in between … go ahead, google it) — Phair’s satirical / confessional debut cut through the grunge to place its tongue in the collective cultural cheek.

Part of the tongue-in-cheek comes from the intent of the record, which works as a sonic and lyrical response to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street (1972). As she told Rolling Stone in 2010, Phair imagined questions that Mick Jagger would answer. “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s what you were doing last night.’ It fit so perfectly with our neighborhood and the age we were. We were living kind of outside of society, especially me,” she said.

“I would write down the song from Exile and I had a code … Let’s say a square meant it was a big song on the record in terms of fully arranged, and a wavy line would mean they used a lot of reverb and it was watery and atmospheric. Then I would go through my songs and do the same thing.”

With this layer of context, Exile in Guyville becomes more than just strong debut, but part of a larger cultural conversation between rock’s past and future, between the male gaze and female empowerment.

This context continues to make Exile in Guyville worthy of ownership. The guitar riff that opens “Help Me Mary,” has a new-but-familiar tone; the sing-a-long chorus of “Never Said” or the drums in “Fuck and Run” exist as a new expression of everything we like in rock and roll. “Divorce Song,” “Girls, Girls, Girls,” and “6’1”” also blend the conversation in new and exciting ways.

The reissue box set by Matador Records, titled Girly-Sound To Guyville, comes as a 7-LP (or 3 CD) meal, with a remastered double LP treatment of Exile in Guyville, as well as music from the three Girly-Sound cassettes, which Phair recorded on cassette and were eventually passed around and around among fans before she landed her record deal. Restored from the original tapes, these have never been previously released in their entirety.