Liz Phair (album)

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Liz Phair
Studio album by
ReleasedJune 24, 2003
  • 12th Floor, Capitol Records Building
  • Decoy Studios (Studio City, California)
  • Grandmaster
  • House of Blues Studios (Encino, California)
  • Master Control (North Hollywood, California)
  • Mesmer Ave. Studios
  • Sage & Sound
  • Sonora Recorders
  • Sunset Sound
  • Third Stone Recording
CDP 7243 5 22084 0 1
Liz Phair chronology

Liz Phair
Singles from Liz Phair
  1. "Why Can't I?"
    Released: May 5, 2003
  2. "Extraordinary"
    Released: March 1, 2004

Liz Phair is the fourth studio album by the American singer-songwriter Liz Phair, released on June 24, 2003, on Capitol Records. It was produced by Phair with Michael Penn, Pete Yorn, R. Walt Vincent and the Matrix songwriting team.

Liz Phair departed from Phair's earlier lo-fi sound for more polished pop production and songwriting. Phair said she wanted to earn more money from her work, and hired the Matrix, who had produced songs by pop acts including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, Ricky Martin and Avril Lavigne. The Matrix co-wrote four songs, including the singles "Extraordinary" and "Why Can't I?".

Liz Phair debuted at #27 on the Billboard 200. "Why Can't I?" entered the Adult Top 40 and Hot Adult Contemporary charts, and its music video placed Phair in heavy rotation on VH1 for the first time. By July 2010, Liz Phair had sold 433,000 copies. It was certified gold in the United States in 2018.

Liz Phair received mixed reviews, including negative reviews from the New York Times and Pitchfork, who both accused Phair of selling out and mimicking younger artists. In 2019, the Pitchfork critic Matt LeMay apologized for his review, saying he had failed to appreciate Phair's willingness to try different approaches.


Phair released her debut album, Exile in Guyville, in 1993. With a raw, lo-fi sound and "punk-feminist" lyrics, it was acclaimed by critics and was eventually certified gold. Her subsequent albums Whip-Smart (1994) and Whitechocolatespaceegg (1998) were less successful.[2]

In 1999, Phair's record label, Matador, was acquired by the major record label Capitol.[3][4] Phair said the acquisition complicated her work, as it meant she had to work with many more people, many of whom had different aims.[4] The Matador staff she had worked with left, leaving her under pressure at Capitol. Phair described seeing "manufactured" bands achieve success while she had no "indie-cool group" to advise her.[4] According to Phair, Andy Slater, the CEO of Capitol, told her: "I'm giving you a shot and if you don't take the shot, there's nothing much I can do for you."[4]

For her fourth album, Phair, now in her 30s, wanted to "feel more like an entrepreneur, not just a dumb artist", and be better rewarded for her work. She said: "I think with many artists there is a gambling spirit – just get out there and don't watch out for yourself – and I think it's a very unhealthy attitude to assume that you're not in business when you actually are."[2]


Phair worked with several producers, including the Matrix team, Michael Penn, Pete Yorn and Yorn's producer R. Walt Vincent.[2] Phair and Penn worked in the Capitol Records Building in Los Angeles.[5] Phair said in October 2001: "He places me in it so beautifully. He'll do things like get an industrial sound and replace it for a snare drum. It's one of the most intense-sounding things I've ever done."[5] Their collaboration ended as, according to Phair, "He tended to like my more serious stuff and he wouldn't let me make a fool of myself, and I really needed to make a little bit of a fool of myself."[6]

Searching for "more spontaneous stuff", Phair recruited the Matrix, who had created songs for pop acts including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, Ricky Martin and Avril Lavigne.[2] Phair said she was envious of Lavigne's 2002 song "Complicated", and said: "How come I don't ever get to make songs that are blasted out of cars? That's one of the things I've always done my whole life is drive fast and play music loud."[6] The Matrix wrote and produced four songs with Phair: "Extraordinary", "Why Can't I?",[7] "Rock Me" and "Favorite".[8] Phair said they pushed her to sing different kinds of melodies: "It's top-of-the-line song structure, and it was really exciting to graft my DNA with theirs and to see what we came up with."[6]

Phair deliberated over whether to include the song "HWC", which stands for "hot white cum". She said she wrote it "completely sincerely ... I'm talking about being in love and having great sex." She said her female friends loved the song, but that "grown men had a lot of problems with it".[6]


Liz Phair debuted at #27 on the Billboard 200.[9] The single "Why Can't I?" entered the Adult Top 40 and Hot Adult Contemporary charts, and its music video placed Phair in heavy rotation on VH1 for the first time.[2] By July 2010, Liz Phair had sold 433,000 copies.[10] It was certified gold in the United States on May 14, 2018, for sales of 500,000 copies.[11]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
Christgau's Consumer GuideA[15]
Entertainment WeeklyA−[16]
The Guardian[17]
Los Angeles Times[18]
Rolling Stone[20]

On the review aggregator site Metacritic, Liz Phair has a score of 40 out of 100, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[12] The polished production and pop songwriting, a departure from Phair's earlier work, alienated many listeners.[22] According to the Washington Post, Liz Phair "inspired some of the most vitriolic music press in ages, with bad (and surprisingly personal) reviews outgunning the occasional good ones by a huge margin".[2] Many accused Phair of selling out and she became a "piñata for critics", according to The New York Times.[23]

The New York Times critic Meghan O'Rourke titled her review "Liz Phair's Exile in Avril-ville", and complained that Phair "gushes like a teenager", having "committed an embarrassing form of career suicide".[24] Matt LeMay of Pitchfork rated the album 0.0, writing, "It's sad that an artist as groundbreaking as Phair would be reduced to cheap publicity stunts and hyper-commercialized teen-pop."[1] The PopMatters critic Adrien Begrand wrote that it was "a highly overproduced, shallow, soulless, confused, pop-by-numbers disaster that betrays everything the woman stood for a decade ago, and most heinously, betrays all her original fans".[25]

Reviewing for Entertainment Weekly, Chris Willman described Liz Phair as "an honestly fun summer disc", noting "Little Digger" and "Rock Me" as highlights.[16] Slant critic Sal Cinquemani also praised the album, calling Phair "frank and funny" and citing "It's Sweet", "My Bionic Eyes", and "Rock Me" as noteworthy tracks.[26] Robert Christgau wrote in The Village Voice that it included "no bad songs", and credited Phair for "successfully fusing the personal and the universal, challenging lowest-common-denominator values even as it fellates them".[15] The Rolling Stone critic Barry Walters wrote that "Rock Me" and "Little Dagger" matched the "lofty songwriting standard" of Exile in Guyville, and concluded: "Phair is a fine lyricist, and although she's lost some musical identity, she's gained potential Top Forty access."[20]


In 2018, Travis Morrison, who also received a 0.0 score from Pitchfork for his 2004 album Travistan, said he thought Liz Phair was Phair's "most visionary gesture". He wrote: "Now hipsters listen to Carly Rae Jepsen and no one thinks about it. But Liz Phair was pretty ahead of that curve. And she really got some nasty shit about it."[27]

In 2019, Phair said she felt O'Rourke's New York Times review had attempted to shame her for dressing and acting sexually as a mother and for trying to reach a broader audience. She said: "Meghan ought to try wearing some hot clothes and having a good time. She might be happier."[28] She said her experience with the album had been "challenging, but good", and that it had helped her "grow a lot as a performer. I did something I was scared to do, like finding my path in a whole new [way]. It's like moving to a new city and making new friends and trying to be a different person."[4] Phair said she was "kind of proud" of the Pitchfork 0.0 rating.[28]

In 2018, asked about the criticism Liz Phair had received from outlets such as Pitchfork, Christgau wrote:

Back then [Pitchfork] was still a snotty boys club open to many "critics" ... Too many amateur wise-asses and self-appointed aesthetes throwing their weight around ... But to return to Liz Phair, it got killed in the indie press for two things: the indie sin of hiring name producers, which my review goes into in some detail, and explicit sexuality. Good sex songs are hard to write, but I love them when they happen; "Favorite" and "HWC" stand out. But the stone classic here is "Little Digger", in which her young son comes into the bedroom she's sharing with a guy not his dad. A complete killer, clearly over LeMay's head.[29]

In 2019, LeMay apologized on Twitter for his "condescending and cringey" Pitchfork review, writing:[30]

In 2019, it is almost inconceivable that there would be any controversy around an established indie musician working on a radio-friendly pop album with radio-friendly pop songwriters. To a smug 19-year-old Pitchfork writer (cough) in 2003, it was just as inconceivable that an established indie artist would try to—or want to—make a radio-friendly pop album in the first place. The idea that "indie rock" and "radio pop" are both cultural constructs? Languages to play with? Masks for an artist to try on? Yeah. I certainly did not get that. Liz Phair DID get that—way before many of us did.

Phair responded to LeMay on Twitter: "I've always enjoyed criticism well-rendered and the 0.0 had some humor to it — enjoyed it more than others I can tell you."[31] In 2021, Pitchfork included Liz Phair on its list of album review scores they "would change if they could", upgrading its score to 6.0.[30]

Track listing[edit]

The Matrix3:24
2."Red Light Fever"Michael Penn4:52
3."Why Can't I?"
  • Christy
  • Spock
  • Edwards
  • Phair
The Matrix3:28
4."It's Sweet"PhairPenn2:54
5."Rock Me"
  • Christy
  • Spock
  • Edwards
  • Phair
The Matrix3:20
6."Take a Look"PhairPenn3:29
7."Little Digger"PhairPenn3:35
  • Christy
  • Spock
  • Edwards
  • Phair
The Matrix3:24
11."H.W.C"PhairR. Walt Vincent2:55
12."My Bionic Eyes"PhairPhair3:52
13."Friend of Mine"PhairPenn3:43
14."Good Love Never Dies"PhairVincent2:58
Total length:50:05


  • "H.W.C." is omitted from clean versions of the album.



  • Producers: the Matrix, Michael Penn, R. Walt Vincent
  • Engineers: Doug Boehm, Ryan Freeland, The Matrix, Michael Penn, R. Walt Vincent, Howard Willing
  • Assistant engineer: Kevin Meeker
  • Mixing: Serban Ghenea, Tom Lord-Alge
  • Mastering: Ted Jensen, Eddy Schreyer
  • Assistant: Mike Glines, Andrew Nast
  • Arranger: The Matrix
  • Drum recordings: Krish Sharma
  • Design: Eric Roinestad
  • Art direction: Eric Roinestad
  • Photography: Phil Poynter


Weekly charts[edit]

Chart (2003) Position
US Billboard 200 27
US Album Sales (Billboard)[32] 27
US Internet Albums (Billboard)[32] 5


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United States (RIAA)[33] Gold 500,000

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ a b c LeMay, Matt (24 June 2003). "Liz Phair: Liz Phair". Pitchfork. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Harrington, Richard (15 August 2003). "From 'Guyville' to Exile in Popville". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  3. ^ "Matador Records". Music Business Worldwide. 21 January 2021. Retrieved 3 February 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d e Brodsky, Rachel (3 June 2021). "We've Got A File On You: Liz Phair". Stereogum. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  5. ^ a b Archive-Corey-Moss. "Liz Phair Nabs Michael Penn For New Album". MTV News. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d Devenish, Colin (17 July 2003). "Phair Fires Back". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  7. ^ "After A Decade of Hits, The Matrix Are Still Going Strong". 9 June 2009. Retrieved 5 June 2023.
  8. ^ Udovitch, Mim (27 June 2003). "What Is Liz Phair Thinking?". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 5 June 2023.
  9. ^ "Liz Phair - Liz Phair". Billboard. Retrieved 17 February 2012.
  10. ^ "Ask Billboard: Kylie 'Fever'". Billboard. 16 July 2010. Retrieved 17 February 2012.
  11. ^ "Gold & Platinum". RIAA. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  12. ^ a b "Reviews for Liz Phair by Liz Phair". Metacritic. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  13. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Liz Phair – Liz Phair". AllMusic. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  14. ^ Powers, Ann (June–July 2003). "Liz Phair: Liz Phair". Blender (17): 146. Archived from the original on 17 April 2004. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  15. ^ a b Christgau, Robert. "Liz Phair: Liz Phair". Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  16. ^ a b Willman, Chris (27 June 2003). "Liz Phair". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on 21 August 2018. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  17. ^ Sweeting, Adam (10 October 2003). "Liz Phair, Liz Phair". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  18. ^ Hilburn, Robert (29 June 2003). "No breakthrough this time around". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  19. ^ "Liz Phair: Liz Phair". Mojo (118): 104. September 2003.
  20. ^ a b Walters, Barry (18 June 2003). "Liz Phair". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  21. ^ Klosterman, Chuck (July 2003). "Liz Phair: Liz Phair". Spin. 19 (7): 107. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  22. ^ "'I did not enjoy my early career at all'. A frank discussion with Liz Phair". Double J. 7 March 2019. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  23. ^ Carr, David (2 August 2005). "The Independence of Liz Phair". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 February 2020.
  24. ^ O'Rourke, Meghan (22 June 2003). "Liz Phair's Exile in Avril-ville". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 February 2020.
  25. ^ Begrand, Adrien (22 June 2003). "Liz Phair: self-titled, PopMatters". PopMatters. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  26. ^ Cinquemani, Sal (18 June 2003). "Liz Phair: Liz Phair". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  27. ^ Barshad, Amos (1 May 2018). "What Was It Like When Critics Could Kill? Most Musicians Still Don't Want to Talk About It". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 5 October 2021.
  28. ^ a b Tannenbaum, Rob (5 September 2019). "Liz Phair on Being Misunderstood, Ryan Adams, and the Dawn of Girlville". Vulture. Retrieved 23 September 2021.
  29. ^ Christgau, Robert (23 October 2018). "Xgau Sez". Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  30. ^ a b "Pitchfork Reviews: Rescored". Pitchfork. 5 October 2021. Retrieved 5 October 2021.
  31. ^ Bell, BreAnna (6 September 2019). "Pitchfork Critic Apologizes for Bashing Liz Phair Album; Singer Graciously Accepts". Variety. Retrieved 23 September 2021.
  32. ^ a b "Liz Phair: Top Album Sales". Billboard. Retrieved 3 August 2022.
  33. ^ "American album certifications – Liz Phair – Liz Phair". Recording Industry Association of America.

External links[edit]