Q and A

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May 27, 2020

[Q] Your reception to Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville and Whipsmart mirrored that of the critical establishment at the time, but something changed for you circa Juvenilia, and you outrightly panned Whitechocolatespaceegg despite Christgau's positive reception to both albums (A- and A respectively). What changed for you, especially as it relates to Whitechocolatespaceegg which Christgau treated as a comeback of sorts? -- David [2020-05-06]

[A] Those albums date from 1995 and 1998. I wasn't writing about music then -- at least not in any systematic way -- and I wrote nothing about Liz Phair until Funstyle in 2010 (which I liked much more than Christgau did: A- vs. *). I vaguely remember Juvenilia as being short and rough, a step back, so I'm not surprised I found it wanting. Those tracks are probably all in the 3-CD box The Girly Sound Tapes (2018), which I graded more generously (***), but 25 years after her masterpiece, it probably sets somewhat differently in my mind. I don't remember the other album, or for that matter her 2003 Liz Phair (a B+ which Christgau graded A), at all. I did start to stream White*egg after this question, and shut it down three tracks in. Maybe it's a tad better than B-, but not so much I felt I needed to figure it out.

You previously asked me this same question about two other records: Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks and Robert Cray's Strong Persuader. Those I remembered, not only the records but the exact point when I decided I couldn't stand them any more. I suppose the reason I can remember them so vividly is that I quickly grasped their appeal, before something else turned me off. I won't go into what -- one thing I never want to do is to spoil a record that you like just because I don't, and you should never let me. But part of the story thers is that I've always had an anti-hype reflex. (I don't recall much hype behind the Cray or Phair albums, but they sold well and the former won a Grammy, so must have had hype beyond Christgau.) It's not that I don't like Dylan, but I've often been out of sync with whatever the critical consensus is on him. The best known cases where my initial reaction was heavily influenced by anti-hype are Bruce Springsteen and Charlie Parker. I've since made my peace with both, although at a lower level than they are generally accorded.

But back to the Phair album(s). Christgau wrote not just capsules but feature reviews of White*egg and Liz Phair. I don't know whether he did that because he initially thought them important, or thought them newsworthy and wound up deciding that he really liked them, but either way he spent a lot of time with the records, whereas I played them once or twice and decided I had wasted my money. Maybe I played them more -- I often do that with records I initially panned that Christgau came to like (most don't move much, but one that really did was Randy Newman's Harps & Angels).

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