Why Liz Phair's Next Album Remains Unfinished, Part 3

She made the cover of the Rolling Stone but her last album still didn't do all that well. This time she's out to deliver a "new sound."

ATN Chicago correspondent Gil Kaufman caught up

with Ms.

Liz for an interview (parts of which ran in his weekly column, "Raw

Material,"

in Chicago's NewCity), wherein Guyville's ex-citizen talked about the

new CD, working with Scott Litt, not working with Brad Wood, the "bedroom

rumor," the deep meaning behind her work and "The Faraway Look." When we left

Phair yesterday, she was pondering whether it was good idea to do another

concept album, or if she could get away with just releasing a collection of

songs. We pick up the conversation as Mr. Kaufman throws a question at Ms.

Phair.

"So, will this record end up having a thematic link?" I wonder.

"Shut up," she snaps playfully. "There will be. It's totally, deeply

important for me to have one. I will be unsatisfied as a human being, as an

artist, if there isn't something that pulls them all together. To me, a great

album takes you somewhere, creates another world for you to be in." "Exile" did

that, she says, "Whip Smart" didn't, and she'll be damned if this next one

comes out without one. Phair ruminates a few seconds more and adds, "either the

theme will come to me and I'll make this brilliant album, or I'm

fucked."

How about a title? Anything in the running? "No, not at all, shut

up. I'm working on it," she snarls , and, I'm convinced, if I'd been right

there she might have punched me in the arm, too. Actually there is one she says

she really likes, one she's had for a while, but that got nixed, by, among

others, Litt. "The Faraway Look." Phair says she was having yet another

conversation about what's wrong with L.A. with her engineer, David Schiffman,

and he said, "I think it's the 'faraway look.'" To which she responded, "Oh,

you mean people are not really focused? They're kind of looking off into the

distance, not really in the present, but working toward the future?" "No," he

said, "it's kind of like, you see a girl from a block away and think, 'oh my

god, she's so fucking beautiful.' Look at that, she's really hot. And then she

gets up really close and she's totally scary." Too many people are banking on

the faraway look, he said. When I suggest yet another meaning (envisioning a

power lunch where the studio exec across from you is feigning attention but

really looking through you and beyond to the next table), Phair says, "See?

It's a good title. It's not necessarily nixed. I think it's pregnant with

possibilities."

Finally, sensing she's got an ace up her sleeve, I wonder

aloud if the finished product will be all new songs, as she promised at the

beginning of the interview. "Actually, I'm going to dig up some songs from the

old 'Girly' session tapes, because I just found those old tapes and had them

put on DAT last year and I really like a bunch of those songs." Phair predicts

she might be done fiddling by the end of this month, then back to L.A., and

maybe a fall release. Matador, of course, would prefer an earlier date, but, in

the end, Phair says, "I can't afford to put something out that I'm not totally

impressed with myself. It takes a lot to sell an album and I want to sell an

album, so it better be something that I think is worth it, that can stand up to

all the

crap."