Music Author Gina Arnold Looks at Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville

The 33 1/3 series includes nearly 100 volumes of a single music critic talking about a single album. The most recent addition to this series features Gina Arnold talking about Exile in Guyville, an album released by Liz Phair in 1993. When this album hit shelves, it made major waves with its lo-fi sound and unique concept. Beautiful lyrics and captivating rhythms made it a classic.

What makes Arnold’s take on the album so interesting is that she leaves out almost all biographical information about Liz and details on the production of the album. After all, Spin magazine had already published a landmark oral history of the making of the album and fans can find all that they need to know about Liz with a simple Wikipedia search. Instead, the book focuses on what that album actually meant at the time it hit shelves and why it remains so important today. Exile in Guyville is a thinly veiled critique of how masculinity overwhelms alternative music culture.

Liz’s album is a song-by-song response to Exile on Main Street, an LP released by the Rolling Stones in 1972. Exile in Guyville pushes back against the inherent machismo of the album and extends its critique to rock music in general. Arnold uses Liz’s work as a springboard to discuss a range of issues that are still present in today’s music.

Ultimately, Arnold mourns the loss of Liz’s music scene, a time when individuals bought records out of blind faith, before streaming music was capable, and when fans had to purchase tickets to see an act instead of just clicking through YouTube. At the same time, Arnold tracks how much the modern music scene has evolved to accept women as musicians and producers, and how much this shift could be traced back to Exile in Guyville and work by other female musicians who pushed back against a male-dominated culture.