950 - Liz Phair 'Whitechocolatespaceegg' (1998)

My Rating: 1.50 out of 5
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: X
Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums: X
The Mojo Collection: X

Chart Peak (UK/US): --/35

Favourite Tracks: Johnny Feelgood
Least-Favourite Tracks: Headache, Girls' Room, Uncle Alvarez

So 1998 was a truly vintage year for music… well at least according to the All-Time Top 1000 Albums book it was. It might have seemed a pretty ordinary year to the rest of us, but for the people who voted on this list in 1998 it must have seemed the zenith of a glorious era that saw the release of some of the greatest albums ever recorded. Yes, let’s forget ’57, ’67 or ’77 and just try to imagine the heady excitement of 1998 & what a mind-blowing experience it must have been when people first heard those masterworks by Shawn Mullins, Embrace, The Goo Goo Dolls & now, Liz Phair.

Putting the sarcasm aside, I think we’ve established by now that these types of lists are of course fundamentally flawed and results are always skewed towards the year the list was compiled. Besides, you only have to look at the winner of this year’s [2009] Nobel Peace Prize to see the bizarre results that can occur when you start letting people vote for their greatest-ever’s.

Anyway on to the album & this was the first time I’d ever heard any Liz Phair. It opens with title-track White Chocolate Space Egg which starts promisingly enough with its thudding drums, plodding bass & echoey sliding guitar. But mix in some rather aimless lyrics along with a bit of a limp chorus and the whole song starts falling flat. Unfortunately weak choruses abound on this album; Only Son, Go On Ahead, Shitloads Of Money & Fantasize all have particularly lame chorus melodies too.

As the album progresses it becomes clear that musically there’s really nothing special going on here – it’s pretty standard alt-rock guitar fare with plenty of well-worn riffs & hooks and no real surprises. The performances all feel a bit passionless too; not sure if her backing band are all session musicians but they certainly don’t have any of that intuitive feel you often find in groups who have played together for years. The one-dimensional & rather lifeless production doesn’t help matters either.

While Liz Phair was lavishly praised for the lyrics on her Exile In Guyville album (#243 in this list), I really couldn’t find anything special about the words here. First of all, it’s difficult to relate to lyrics when you have no idea what they’re on about. Take the opening lines of Big Tall Man: “I’m a big tall man / I cut the grass / My left eye hurts / I am waiting & reading parts / I can be a complicated communicator / Yes I’m winning, spinning / I feel energy being pulled off from all sides / And it feels good / Like relieving a headache”. Eh? I’m sure it’s all very personal & meaningful to Liz Phair but to me it’s little more than random wordplay.

Even the songs without such cryptic content rarely moved me & there often seemed to be a lack of emotional potency to the lyrics. Not always though; Only Son struck a much more visceral tone with lines such as “All these babies are born / Like a field full of poppies / Who’s gonna know which are torn?” Similarly, the breakup song Go On Ahead sounds a good deal more heartfelt & includes the Matt Johnson’esque “You say you’re a ghost in our house / And I realise I do think I see through you”. It’s just a shame that both songs are so feeble musically.

The album would have also benefited from some quality control. There are 16 tracks included but at least a quarter of these have ‘B-side’ written all over them & really should have been dropped. The aptly-titled Headache sounds like something that John Shuttleworth might have knocked up on his home organ during the tea break. Even worse, both Ride & Girls’ Room sound like something Phoebe is performing in the coffee shop in Friends. Seriously – have a listen if you don’t believe me:

Not quite what you expect from the 950th greatest album of all-time is it? It might have seemed like something very original in 1998, but now all the hype has died down we are left with a very ordinary collection of songs. Oh well, let’s hope this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner lives up to the voters’ expectations a little better.


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