Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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In 1993, Liz Phair--a 26-year-old Oberlin grad turned sketch artist who'd never performed live--put out an unheralded album called Exile in Guyville. It figured to move 5000 copies in the alternative market, where her bedroom tapes had a rep. Instead it sold 200,000 and won every critics poll in sight. One ode to a sex object was quoted constantly--male scribes just couldn't resist "I want to be your blowjob queen" and "I'll fuck you till your dick is blue." But in fact Phair's sexually independent gestures merely fleshed out her more traditionally female genius for evoking, depicting, and analyzing the interpersonal--and diverted praise from her offbeat structures and spare tunes.

In 1994, no up-and-coming artist has gotten more ink, and Whip-Smart (Matador) will certainly outsell her debut. Since Phair is smart, honest, gifted, and a welcome relief in the gender-role department, let's hope she survives this success. Whip-Smart is a pretty good record that serves up enough fucks to keep aspiring boy toys happy, but yokels who don't know from Guyville are sure to wonder how many editors she's been sleeping with. Where the quietest entries on the first album got under your skin eventually, here songs you want to fall for end up misfiring slightly. The difference is so subtle that hype-primed consumers may not notice. But it's enough to keep her off the cover of Rolling Stone until she takes her music up a notch again.


Fast Cuts: On Loose (Mammoth/Atlantic), Victoria Williams, the quirky singer-songwriter whose battle with multiple sclerosis inspired last year's Sweet Relief tribute, makes clear why so many good musicians want her to keep working. On No Need To Argue (Island), the Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan makes clear that her dream-pop has substance.

Playboy, Oct. 1994


Sept. 1994 Nov. 1994