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15 Years in ‘Exile’

George Lang Published: March 31, 2008

This morning, ATO announced the reissue of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, a deluxe repackaging of Phair’s landmark 1993 debut, complete with bonus songs from the sessions and a DVD documentary, Guyville Redux, featuring an introduction by ATO co-founder Dave Matthews (more on this later), and Phair conducting interviews with Matador Records’ Gerard Cosloy and Chris Lombardi, John Cusack, Urge Overkill, Steve Albini and “This American Life” host Ira Glass.

In an essay that will be included on Guyville, scheduled for release June 24, former Spin editor Alan Light writes that “Exile in Guyville is miles more complex than the porn-star manifesto it was often considered. Phair spoke for the uncertainties facing a new generation of women, struggling to find a balance between sexual confidence and romance, between independence and isolation… Exile in Guyville sat at the center of a culture in transition.”

It has almost become cliche to complain about Phair’s post-Guyville output, though my problems with Phair’s increasingly compromised material began following her great third album, 1998′s Whitechocolatespaceegg, a polished but refreshingly honest adult rock album. Five years later, Phair returned with an unfortunate self-titled disc that seemed to be (unsuccessfully) aimed at 13 year olds, and Phair frequently threw her old fans under the bus during interviews promoting the album. The old fans then proceeded to run to the nearest first aid station, get patched up, undergo physical therapy, run back to the street, wait for Liz to return, and then threw her under the bus. When she returned two years later with the more mature Somebody’s Miracle, she was without a constituency.

Now, as Pitchfork astutely noted this morning, it might be time for a good number of us to stop giving Matthews the high hat. His label is home to My Morning Jacket, Radiohead, Crowded House and now Phair, who will release new material this fall. Given all his recent signings, Matthews might just be the coolest record executive this side of Merge Records’ Mac McCaughan. Live with that.

And hopefully, finally, truly, madly and deeply, Phair will now release something worthy of the considerable legacy of Exile in Guyville.

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