Whip-Smart

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Whip-Smart
Studio album by Liz Phair
Released September 20, 1994
Recorded August 1993
Idful Studios, Chicago
February 1994
Compass Point Studios, Nassau
Genre Indie rock
Length 42:02
Label Matador
Producer Liz Phair and Brad Wood
Liz Phair chronology
Exile in Guyville
(1993)
Whip-Smart
(1994)
Juvenilia
(1995)

Whip-Smart is the second album by American singer-songwriter Liz Phair, released in 1994, the follow-up to Phair's critically well received debut, 1993's Exile In Guyville. Despite not being as critically well received as her previous record, Whip-Smart debuted at #27 on the Billboard 200[1] and ultimately achieved gold status. As of July 2010, it had sold 412,000 copies.[2]

At the time of its release Whip-Smart received generally favorable reviews from music critics, figuring inside end of year lists, including those by the Los Angeles Times and Q Magazine. The album was ranked sixth for its year inside The Village Voice Pazz and Jop Poll.[3] Although obscured by its famous predecessor, the album has gained more recognition with time and is largely considered a key record to Phair's legacy as an artist, along with her other two Matador Records releases and the Girly Sound tapes. In 2003, the German version of Rolling Stone magazine placed the record at 95 on its list of greatest records since Autumn of 1994.[4] In 2014, Rolling Stone named Whip-Smart the 18th greatest album of its year – considered by the magazine the peak of mainstream alternative rock.[5]

Background[edit]

After the success of Exile in Guyville, expectations ran high for Liz Phair's sophomore release.[6] Phair's debut album had sold over 200,000 units by the spring of 1994 and was Matador's most successful release so far. The success of Exile in Guyville was, in fact, responsible for the fact that many major labels were looking to form a distribution deal with Matador, most prominently Atlantic Records, which would form Phair's next album deal.

Because of this, Whip-Smart was one of the most anticipated albums of the year. Danny Goldberg, then-president of Atlantic Records, stated that the record would "hit gold quickly", and both Rolling Stone and Spin were interested in featuring Phair on their covers.[7]

Recording[edit]

Phair stated that Whip-Smart was particularly difficult to make because, at the time, she didn't have many songs that weren't about the music industry, which displeased her manager.[8] In fact, a substantial part of the final album was composed of songs already written in 1991, when Phair recorded under the Girly Sound moniker—namely "Chopsticks", "Shane", "Go West", "Whip-Smart" (previously known as "Double Dutch"), and parts of "Jealousy" (previously known as "Thrax").

In total, Whip-Smart took about one month to record. The album was recorded in two distinct sessions. The first one took place in August 1993 in Chicago, while the second one took place in February 1994 in the Bahamas.

Guitarist Casey Rice stated that the initial sessions at Idful Studios in Chicago were not going well because of distractions, such as "the phone ringing, people dropping by the studio, and so on". Because of this, Phair wanted to continue recording the album in New York. However, because of financial constraints, the band ended up deciding to contact the Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas.

The same team that worked on Guyville worked again on what would become Whip-Smart. The album was recorded and mixed by Brad Wood, with the assistance of Casey Rice. Brad Wood stated that the recording process was very much spontaneous, saying that "[Liz would] bring in a song and we'd record the whole thing that day. I'd have to write a drum and bass part right on the spot." There was, however, a pressure to improve on the sound of the previous record, to meet the expectations of Phair's newly formed fanbase.

Liz Phair has stated that the songs on Whip-Smart chronicle the beginning, middle and end of a relationship: "a rock fairy tale, from meeting the guy, falling for him, getting him and not getting him, going through the disillusionment period, saying 'Fuck it,' and leaving, coming back to it." Phair has also commented on the sound of the album saying that it sounds more confident and playful, and less frustrated, tense, and sexual than Exile in Guyville.[7]

Liz Phair was also responsible for a great part of the artwork design. The cover art of the album is taken from a Soviet poster.[9] In the original poster, there is an old person (as shown in lyrics booklet) in the middle of the star, however the album cover shows a somewhat out-of-focus photo of Phair. The booklet features a collage of several polaroid photos of the band members and words composing the children's counting rhyme "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe".

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3.5/5 stars[6]
Entertainment Weekly B[10]
Chicago Tribune 3/4 stars[11]
Los Angeles Times 4/4 stars[12]
Nude as the News (favorable)[13]
Robert Christgau (2-star Honorable Mention)[14]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[15]
Spin (9/10)[16]

Critical reception was generally favorable. Richie Unterberger of Allmusic states that "if there are flaws in this generally first-rate follow-up, they mostly arise in comparison with Guyville, a record of such unexpected impact that most anything Phair could have done may have been found lacking" and that "there's no question that Phair is a major songwriter and artist, but this album is more a solidification of her talents than a breakthrough statement."[6]

Whip-Smart debuted at #27 on the Billboard 200 and spent 17 weeks on the charts.[1] The lead single "Supernova" received somewhat heavy rotation on radio stations and the music video was aired on MTV. The song went on to hit #6 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart and #78 on the Billboard Hot 100. In fact, "Supernova" introduced Phair to a new audience and still remains one of her most recognizable songs. In 1995, it was nominated for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in the 37th Annual Grammy Awards.[17]

Phair was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone on the week Whip-Smart was released, and by 1994 and 1995, she made a frequent number of television appearances, including the Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and MTV's 120 Minutes.

However, despite its early success, Whip-Smart quickly departed the charts. Even though the second single and title track "Whip-Smart" was also successful, it failed to capture the same amount of attention of "Supernova", and by the time the third single "Jealousy" was released, the interest in the album was much smaller. Besides this, Phair canceled her tour shortly after the album was released, causing Atlantic's legal department to send her several letters demanding her to tour or risk defaulting on her contract.[18] Phair stated, "Basically they wanted me to be public, I wanted to be private. All these people wanted me to be really big and I felt like this tiny pea in the center of all this chaos. I didn't want this success. I kept thinking this is wrong. Why do all these people want it so much more than I do?"[7]

According to a Billboard article, Whip-Smart has sold 412,000 copies in the US based on SoundScan sales, and is certified gold by the RIAA. As of July 2003, the album had sold 600,000 globally, making it her most commercially successful album.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Liz Phair. 

No. Title Length
1. "Chopsticks"   2:05
2. "Supernova"   2:48
3. "Support System"   2:58
4. "X-Ray Man"   2:13
5. "Shane"   4:12
6. "Nashville"   4:42
7. "Go West"   3:17
8. "Cinco de Mayo"   2:43
9. "Dogs of L.A."   2:21
10. "Whip-Smart"   4:18
11. "Jealousy"   3:37
12. "Crater Lake"   2:06
13. "Alice Springs"   1:50
14. "May Queen"   2:42

Personnel[edit]

  • Liz Phair – guitar, piano, vocals, artwork design
  • Brad Wood – synthesizer, bass, guitar, percussion, drums, background vocals, recording, production, engineering, and mixing
  • Casey Rice – guitar, mixing, recording
  • Mark O – artwork design
  • Roger Seibel – mastering

Charts[edit]

Album[edit]

Year Chart Position
1994 Billboard 200 27

Singles[edit]

Year Single Chart Position
1994 "Supernova" Modern Rock Tracks 6
1994 "Supernova" Billboard Hot 100 78
1995 "Whip-Smart" Modern Rock Tracks 24

Certifications[edit]

Organization Level
RIAA – U.S. Gold

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Whip-Smart - Liz Phair". Billboard.com. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  2. ^ "Ask Billboard: Kylie 'Fever'". Billboard. 2010-07-16. Retrieved 2012-02-17. 
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ [3]
  6. ^ a b c Whip-Smart at AllMusic
  7. ^ a b c "Whip-Smart Is The Best-Selling LP By An Artist Of The Matador Records". Web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 2009-10-27. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  8. ^ "Liz Phair interview". YouTube. 2006-01-07. Retrieved 2012-09-15. 
  9. ^ ""We, soviet children, follow Lenin's way"". Sovmusic.ru. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  10. ^ "Entertainment Weekly review". Ew.com. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  11. ^ Chicago Tribune, (September 15, 1994)
  12. ^ Lorraine Ali (1994-09-18). "The Second Time Just Gets Better - Los Angeles Times". Articles.latimes.com. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  13. ^ "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". Web.archive.org. 2003-03-22. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  14. ^ "CG: liz phair". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  15. ^ By Barbara O'Dair (1994-09-22). "Whip-Smart | Album Reviews". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  16. ^ "Whip-Smart". Acclaimed Music. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  17. ^ "Grammy Awards: Best Rock Vocal Performance - Female". Rock On The Net. Retrieved 2012-09-15. 
  18. ^ "Mesmerizing - Liz Phair Remembers Whip-Smart plus the current state of Liz (September 20th, 2011)". Mesmerizingtoo.com. Retrieved 2012-09-15.