"Exile in Guyville"
* * * 1/2
Although the title of Phair's debut album could stand on its own as a hip feminist jingle for the '90s, it's really the 26-year-old singer-songwriter's description of her place among the alternative-rock boys in her Chicago home base.
The album is full of the soul-baring rawness and bittersweet female admissions that made Polly Jean Harvey a heartthrob in Guyvilles nationwide. Smart and insightful lyrics wind through the 18 numbers.
Phair sings about sloppy roommates, slick soap stars and sleaze-bag boyfriends--first in casual, flat 'n' low tones, her voice then rising to reach a cleaner, folkie pitch. She doesn't need to scream or growl to get her angrier points across; she just stiffens up her tone and from there, the Angst rips. She sings over simple and sometimes charmingly sloppy acoustic and electric arrangements that are based in three-chord rock 'n' roll.
Regardless of how she'll be pegged in the upcoming months--angry woman fighting for the feminist cause or neato gal worshiped by college-rock guys--she's one of the few who can spill her guts in an accessible and entertaining way.
New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).