Liz Phair, Whip-Smart (1994)

Liz Phair's groundbreaking 1993 debut Exile in Guyville, a sprawling, transgressive and cathartic masterpiece, got so much love upon release that the rest of her catalog tends to get overlooked.  (Exile came in for a whole new round of adulation when it was re-released last year coupled with her original Girlysound recordings, the legendary demos she recorded prior to Exile and from which a number of its songs were drawn.)

And while the follow-up Whip-Smart may not break new ground (indeed, a good chunk of it is similarly drawn from those Girlysound demos), it's a pretty damn solid record, and its stand-out tracks are essential pieces of the Phair canon.

I lean towards the more upbeat tracks here.  "Cinco de Mayo" and the title track are fun, bouncy pop tunes; album closer "May Queen" is a thoroughly infectious send-off; "Support System" is nearly Dylanesque in its lyrical complexity but still totally catchy; and "Go West" is a perfect inclusion for any road trip mix tape.  And of the quieter, more introspective tracks, "Nashville" is just stunning, highlighting some seriously underrated vocal chops.

The "hit" MTV single, "Supernova," is a tougher call.  It finds Liz in harder rocking territory, and the brassy, sexually charged lyrics come off a little more forced than they did on Exile; but it's still a fun listen.

As a whole, it ably shows Liz was not a one-trick pony, and fits in well alongside Exile.  (After this, Liz would slide into increasingly commercial-sounding albums, drawing mixed reactions among fans, though I think 1998's Whitechocolatespaceegg is pretty great.)

Here's the "Supernova" video:

And a live take on "May Queen":
And as long as we're here, how about a stripped down "Nashville," live at Matador Records' 21st anniversary festival in Vegas.  (Yeah, I was there, in rapt attention with everyone else you see in the crowd.  Damn, that Matador fest was just the best fucking weekend ever...)

Buy it on Amazon.