They say the only thing worse than not having success in the music industry is actually having success in the music industry, as having a hit inevitably breeds expectations that tend to be impossible to meet. It's even stranger to score critical success without the accompanying commercial winnings, as Liz Phair did when she released her incredible watershed debut Exile in Guyville in 1993. A staggering, honest manifesto about being a young woman in a dangerous time, Exile in Guyville was one of the most beloved albums of '93 and still stands as one of the finest achievements in indie rock history. What did she do for an encore? On this day in 1994, she dropped Whip-Smart, her much-maligned and terribly underrated second effort.
While not as caustic and naked as Exile in Guyville, Whip-Smart maintained much of the energy that made Phair's debut such a winner. Though the songs are slightly more polished production-wise, they remain honest and powerful. Opener "Chopsticks" is an excellent example, a dead-eyed dirge featuring nothing more than Phair's voice and a droning piano. "He said he liked to do it backwards/ I said, 'That's just fine with me/ That way we can f--- and watch TV," she croons. It's a cold, real look at relationships that rarely got that type of candor (and in many ways still doesn't).
Whip-Smart is notable because it contains Phair's first true rock hit in the bubbly "Supernova." By far the biggest hook she had ever written, "Supernova" also contains one of the better couplets in Phair's career in "Your kisses are as wicked as an F-16/ And you f--- like a tornado and you're everything to me." The video also landed Phair in MTV's long-forgotten "Buzz Bin," and it's easy to see why. It's a delightful mash-up of early '90s video tropes and low-fi production.