My favorite 100 albums of all time: #80 ("Whip-Smart")

Album Cover for "Whip-Smart" by Liz Phair Liz Phair's Whip-Smart is a perfect Saturday afternoon album. By happy accident, that's when I'm re-listening to Whip-Smart and writing this post.

Whip-Smart is not a radio-friendly album, unless the radio station is an early 90s alt-rock station with a penchant for pissing off the FCC. Unusual at the time, Phair drops more than a few f-bombs on Whip-Smart, and Phair's songwriting doesn't produce a lot of accessible tunes ready to push out as a single anyway.

Sure, "Supernova," is an exception to this rule. Clocking in at just 2:48, it sports a chunky, fuzzed out guitar hook that makes the song as crowd-pleasing as they come.

But many of the tracks on Whip-Smart are ethereal and un-rushed. More like vignettes or short stories with a backing track. Phair's delivery alternates between hushed and vulnerable and the confident alt-rock goddess.

"Cinco De Mayo," is a more straight-forward rocker with Phair's trademark off-key delivery and garage band sound. "Dogs of L.A." is somewhere between the lands of ethereal and off-key garage rock.

Then there's the title track for the album, "Whip-Smart." Easily one of my favorite Phair songs, it's a song about how she plans to raise her son, someday. The chorus is irresistible, and it's just a magnificent track all around.

"Jealousy" is another more direct number, with a heavy bass throb and loose rhythm guitar. Phair is wrestling with the green-eyed monster in this one, singing:

I can't believe you had a life before me
I can't believe they let you run around free
Just putting your body wherever it seemed like a good idea

If you're new to Phair, give it a chance, then dig out Exile in Guyville and the rest of her catalog. Sadly, it's a bit slim – Phair has only put out six full-length albums since Exile in 1993. Say what you will about Phair, she doesn't hold back. Maybe that's why I enjoy Whip-Smart so much: It's raw, unfiltered, and deeply personal. Its lack of polish is a feature, not a bug. On repeated listens, it gets even better.

Author: Joe Brockmeier

Joe Brockmeier is a long-time participant in open source projects and former technology journalist. Brockmeier has worked as the openSUSE Community Manager, is an Apache Software Foundation (ASF) member, and participates heavily in the Fedora Cloud Working Group. Brockmeier works for Red Hat in the Open Source and Standards (OSAS) and manages the community team.

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