Apparently Liz Phair has been listening to a lot of skits from hip-hop albums lately. Her sixth album, snuck out as a paid download on her website over the July 4 weekend, begins with “Smoke,” in which Phair argues with a club doorman about whether she’s on the guest list. It closes with “U Hate It”—a couple of male voices (presumably label executives) first debunking, then praising the new Liz Phair album over a half-assed R&B groove, while Phair herself croons “I think I'm a genius / You're being a peen-ius”—pause—“colada, that is.” (Come back, the Madonna who rhymed “latte” and “shot-tay,” all is forgiven.) Yes, these bits are symbolic of Phair’s stance as an outsider to both the mainstream and indie worlds, and no, they aren’t especially listenable. Ditto the bhangra (!) rap (!!) “Bollywood,” about Phair scoring TV shows for the money. No telling whether the arrangement contains the world’s tiniest violin, but the lyric pretty much takes care of that.
Possibly the saddest thing about Funstyle is that the seven straighter songs those experiments surround have just as little to recommend them. The subway-busker acoustic number “You Should Know Me” would make a train of commuters scramble for their earbuds; the awkwardly arranged and sung folk-pop of “Miss September” serves primarily to remind listeners how much better Phair did this sort of thing on Whitechocolatespaceegg; “My My” is a who-cares funk jam. Because Phair meant so much to her fans at one point, many of them will keep attempting to find the silver lining in this box of dirt. There is one—Phair gets to keep all the money it makes—but unfortunately, it’s nowhere to be heard in the songs, not to mention the “songs.”