Wednesday, August 19, 2009

42. Liz Phair "Why Can't I?" (2003)

Oh Liz, how far has your star fallen?

Liz Phair is the Judas Iscariot of the indie music world, the Benedict Arnold of hipsterdom. She is hate, hate, hated by those who used to just love, love, love her. This song is a big reason why.

Some perspective: Liz Phair has never hidden the fact that she's always wanted to be a pop star. In fact, it's right there on her beloved first album, Exile in Guyville (as well as in number of early interviews).

While still an up-and-coming female artist in Chicago, surrounded by slacker boyfriends, Phair imagined the deliverance of stardom in the song "Help Me Mary":
I'm asking, dear Mary please
Temper my hatred with peace
Weave my disgust into fame
And watch how fast they run to the flame
After Guyville, still firmly "alternative," Phair began to flirt with pop with singles like "Supernova" and "Polyester Bride." So why did "Why Can't I?" and its accompanying album Liz Phair seem to blindside so many?

Probably because it was produced by the Matrix, the same hitmakers who were responsible for inexcusable pop songs from Avril Lavigne and Shakira. (Yuck!) But probably more so because indie musicians shouldn't even want to be famous in the first place. Liz Phair was seen as trash because it wanted to be popular.

That said, Liz Phair is not Liz Phair's best album. Still, it contains some excellent songs, "Why Can't I?" being one of them. The song captures the excitement of being in a bad relationship and finding someone new, someone who holds the hope of being something better.

It's sleek and polished. It's catchy. It even contains some of Phair's perfunctory dirtiness ("Here we go, we're at the beginning/ We haven't fucked yet, but my head's spinning).

So what's the problem?

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