whitechocolatespaceegg is the third album from Liz Phair. It was released in 1998 along with the must successful single from the disc, Polyester Bride. The album was produced by Matador Records and distributed by Capitol Records, and totals forty nine minutes and ten seconds in length over sixteen tracks. This album is particularly interesting because it's a fantastic example of how an artist can take a chance on an album and as a result alienate a good portion of the artist's fan base.
Liz Phair is perhaps best known for her nearly-legendary 1991 album, Exile in Guyville, an album full of roughly recorded songs of single white female angst. It was fantastically well-executed, mostly because of the brutal honesty in the lyrics and Liz's honest vocal delivery. She followed it up with a well-received but softer edged 1994 album, Whip Smart, after which she essentially disappeared for four years.
In the interim, Liz got married and had children. Rather than spend the time trying to force out more songs full of teen girl angst, she instead wrote a handful of songs about what happens when the angry and lost girl of the last two albums finds the man she's been looking for, and realizes that it isn't necessarily everything it's cracked up to be. The songs remained as honest as they were before, but the perspective had changed.
Not unsurprisingly, when the album came out in 1998, people who were eagerly expecting another Exile in Guyville were very disappointed, and a good part of her fanbase largely rejected the album. Interestingly, she managed to gain a number of new fans through her changed perspective; perhaps an older and more mature fan base.
The album itself is a well-produced and interesting album with a few true gems sprinkled throughout. It's easy to see why someone looking for an album full of angst would be disappointed, because this disc is much more about subdued introspection. Of course, that doesn't mean that some of the tracks don't have a strong rock influence.
The album opens with the (sort of) title track, White Chocolate Space Egg (4:35), a heavy electronic track that makes an absolutely huge statement to open the album that this isn't the same stuff you've heard from Liz in the past. It's about the weird road that love often travels, and features a weird mix of guitar rock and electronica, an utterly surprising way (for her) to open the album. But it works, and it makes a strong statement to open the disc.
The second track Big Tall Man (3:49) is probably one of the closer tracks on the album to a traditional straight-up rock sound that Liz is better known for. The alternation between the rocking choruses and the mellow, spoken word verses makes for a nice contrast within the song.
Perfect World (2:15) is a very mellow song, something of a change of pace compared to the rock of the first two tracks. It's mostly notable for the way it slows down the tempo of the album without destroying the feel of it at all.
Johnny Feelgood (3:22) is probably the clearest throwback to the older angst-filled attitude of Liz; it's about a girl who's hopelessly in love with an abusive guy and she actually comes to like the abuse. To my ears, it's quite a dark song, but with a very good rock-pop feel to it.
The hit single from the album, Polyester Bride (4:05), is about a young, wide-eyed girl getting advice from an older, wiser bartender. I think that the two characters in the song are both Liz, actually; the girl at the bar is the girl she once was, and the bartender is the older and wiser woman that she is now. Add in a nice hook on top of the excellent lyrics and you have a hit song.
Love Is Nothing (2:16) follows up the excellent preceding track with another mellow number, this one about how love isn't what you hope and expect it to be. Low key and another effective transitional piece on the album.
Baby Got Going (2:02) is a drum-heavy driving little track. The driving percussion is the most noteworthy element of this track, which sort of stands out from the rest of the album.
The next song, though, is one of the best ones on the disc. Uncle Alvarez (3:52) is a Carribean-influenced song about a picture hanging on the wall of a long-lost forgotten relative, and all of the things that that picture has seen and the things that that relative has done. It's a really interesting song, done in a mellow and interesting musical fashion; these two factors make this song one of the best ones on the disc.
Only Son (5:08) is the longest song on the album, a solid mellow but guitar-heavy song about a son who has done wrong by his family and the agony it's causing him now that he's older and realizes what he's done. It definitely keeps with the theme of the album, reflecting on the mistakes of youth when older.
Go On Ahead (2:53) starts off sounding like a continuation of the previous song, but the lyrics tell a quite different tale, one of how a couple drifting apart, kept together only by the fact that they have a child. Very melancholic.
Headache (2:53) is a musical change of pace, with heavy bass keyboards filling the song about a girl that has been through a lot of relationships but survived them all. The music of the song with the drums and bass keyboards really stands out and adds something interesting to the album.
Ride (3:04) has a lot of layered vocals going on, with Liz dubbed on over herself, creating another distinct sound on the disc. The lyrics are somewhat weak here ("regeneration... regeneration... positive t-cell"... what does that mean?), but the wonderfully drifty chorus makes up for it.
What Makes You Happy (3:36) is a rock-heavy song about talking about relationships with your mother after a chain of failed ones. Liz's strength is often in her lyrics, and that is the case here; the song is wonderfully written.
Fantasize (1:55) is a very short song that borrows hugely from The Beatles in the lyrics (You've Got To Hide Your Love Away) about, obviously, fantasizing about a secret adulterous relationship with someone. It's very drifty and mellow, giving it an interesting feel.
The next to last song is the extremely clever and enjoyable Shitloads of Money (3:39), which delivers a pretty clear response to Liz's fans who claim she has "taken the money and ran," a response which she almost expected from this album, it seems. It's done very well and following the interestingly introspective songs that precede it, the line "It's nice to be liked but it's better by far to get paid" is virtually guaranteed to get the attention of anyone who is too strongly attached to the music. That level of honesty and directness is rare, and this song earns a lot of respect from me to her.
The actual closer to this album is about as relevant as Her Majesty was on Abbey Road, but Girls' Room (1:46) is a quick tale about the social environment of a womens' restroom. Liz plays around with carrying out syllables vocally here, a much different style than her usual vocal delivery, but this song still seems like an out of place closer.
If you enjoy musicians like Aimee Mann who focus on musical introspection from a female adult perspective, there really is a lot to like here. It's a sharp departure from the rough angst of her previous albums, but it still hits home for listeners willing to hear it.