Single Review: Liz Phair “Why Can’t I”

Why Can’t I
Album: Liz Phair
Year: 2003

Liz Phair’s first album, “Exile In Guyville” is a classic. A song-by-song response to the Rolling Stone’s “Exile On Main Street” album, she explored female sexuality, heartbreak, and male/female relationships with honesty and bluntness.

Liz Phair, her new self-titled album, is indistinguishable from the mainstream fluff that dominates radio.

“Why Can’t I,” which is co-written and produced by the Matrix, finds Liz Phair in a bland situation. She likes a guy but both have a significant others. She then wonders “why can’t I breathe whenever I think about you/why can’t I speak whenever I talk about you.” If it weren’t for her trademark lyrics like “we’re already wet and we’re going to go swimming,” it could be assumed teenaged Hilary Duff is singing it. Like most traditional Liz Phair songs, she swears. In her older albums, it was an adult statement made with thought and feeling behind it. Now, it’s a desperation tactic. It’s gratuitous attempt to make her look “edgy.”

Liz Phair’s voice probably will never be remembered for being remarkable. But most female rock singers (PJ Harvey, for example) don’t. Instead, they focus on the lyrics and interpret the emotion. On “Why Can’t I” her faint voice is emphasized by the numerous production tricks involved: Pro-tools that make her voice crisp and clear the overdubbing in the chorus and the processed vocals in the background. While her original voice wasn’t the greatest, it did have some individuality.

Liz Phair’s newfound mainstream appeal comes at cost: her talent. She discards it in favor of dumbing down her songwriting and hiring the trendy-at-the-moment Matrix to create hooks for her. It’s disappointing to see a once relevant rock singer cheapen herself with gimmicks.

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