Maybe Prince is on to something, because the Interweb and I are on the outs this week. Because unless you’re slavishly checking your favorite artists’ websites every single day, you’re bound to miss the news of something new, lagging behind at least a day or more until it somehow reaches you.
And so it was with Liz Phair’s newest album, Funstyle, which she released on her website over the weekend, pricing the self-release at $5.99. I’ve been waiting five years for something new from Ms. Phair (other than the odd tune or TV score), and certainly didn’t think her sixth LP would arrive on the Saturday before the Fourth of July sans fanfare. Some fireworks would have been fitting (or maybe a rocket, boy). Still, I was pretty excited.
Releasing an album without label backing has its merits, but judging from the initial reaction, Phair might give some thought to her next marketing plan. Because a lot of the blog chatter in the last day or two has been focused mostly on “Bollywood,” the Funstyle track she chose to preview on her homepage, and it hasn’t been kind:
Listen closely and the song’s a dig at the ridiculousness of the past few years (record label execs, music publishing reps, writing the aforementioned TV scores, and trying to get paid). But without context or attention to detail, it’s too easy to dismiss “Bollywood” outright after a single spin: “There goes Liz Phair, awkwardly rapping against a Bhangra beat in a futile bid to feel current!
But as Phair sings in a later Funstyle track, we really should know her better than that. I agree with those who are viewing the new album as a latter-day throwback to Phair’s anything-goes Girlysound tapes. It’s worth remembering that those 4-track recordings, while legendary now, were a mixed bag, sonically and thematically. And so it is with Funstyle.
There’s near-polished pop like “Satisfied” and “Miss September” that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Somebody’s Miracle (don’t run away just yet), alongside the lo-fi of “You Should Know Me” and the shambolic “Oh, Bangladesh” (see?). Besides “Bollywood,” Phair gets her joke on in “Beat Is Up” and “U Hate It” (the latter another skewering of the state of the music industry), and you can skip past ’em if you like. But the real highlights of Funstyle are the left-field funk of “My My” (better than you might think), the noir-tinged trip-hop of “Bang! Bang!” (proving that Phair has a knack for film work), and “And He Slayed Her,” a dig at former Capitol Records head Andy Slater, credited with Phair’s “reinvention.”
Taken in total, Funstyle isn’t a bad way for Phair to hit the re-start button on her own terms (the lazy cover art, however, was best summed up by Stereogum). I know some fans will settle for nothing less than a sequel to Exile In Guyville, while even something akin to Whitechocolatespaceegg would rock my world. But $5.99 is a fair price to pay for Funstyle, which is the closest she’s come to either in quite some time, and more than enough for me.
Purchase Funstyle via Liz Phair’s official website.