Voices from the past
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All hail Liz Phair! Kicking the male-dominated Chicago rock scene in its tender nuts with her steel-toe boots, Phair's 1993 debut album "Exile in Guyville" didn't mince words when it came to the battle of the sexes. It was a bruising felt round the world, as dudes and bros moved to cover their privates. Twenty-five years later, the 18 songs on that album, as well as those on the preceding Girlysound home demo tapes, still sound fresh and ring true. The restored triple-disc set "Girly-Sound to Guyville" (Matador), a provocative musical history lesson if there ever was one, is a potent reminder of female resilience in these #MeToo days. With songs "Fuck and Run," "Dance of the Seven Veils," "Stratford-On-Guy" and "Divorce Song," Phair essentially left Madonna in the dust while planting the seeds for Alanis Morissette. Regardless of what you think of Phair's later output (2003's eponymous disc, we're talking to you!), nothing compares to this masterwork.
It's no exaggeration to say that when Gomez released its debut album in 1998, it didn't sound like anything else. Newly reissued in an expanded four-disc 20th anniversary edition box set, "Bring It On" (Virgin) still doesn't have any match in unusual sonics. A big factor is the shared vocal duties by Ben Ottewell and Ian Ball. Ottewell's vocals in particular, alternately warm and ragged, provide the songs with a bluesy soul that's hard to match ("Make No Sound"). "78 Stone Wobble," "Whippin' Piccadilly," "Tijuana Lady," the twangy "Free To Run" and the jazzy "Bubble Gum Years" provide Gomez with its distinguishing edge. A 2018 remaster of the original album, the box set also includes a disc of remastered single B-sides, a record company demo tape, 4-track recordings, live recordings and more.
Back when it was a quartet known for its sassy harmonies, En Vogue owned the early 90s. En Vogue's first two albums "Born to Sing" and "Funky Divas" contained a string of dazzling hit singles: "Lies," "Hold On," "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)," "Free Your Mind" and a cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Sparkle" tune "Giving Him Something He Can Feel." They even teamed up with female rap outfit Salt-N-Pepa for "Whatta Man." The departure of Dawn Robinson changed the group's fortunes as they added and removed members. En Vogue returns with the delicious "Electric Café" (eOne), its first album in 14 years, with an incarnation featuring Cindy Herron, Terry Ellis and Rhona Bennett. Sounding very au courant, En Vogue returns to form with outstanding numbers "Blue Skies," "Déjà Vu," and "Have a Seat," featuring Snoop Dogg.
Like En Vogue, Matthew Sweet has a storied past in music. Sweet released a couple of albums for a couple of different labels in the 80s that weren't met with much fanfare. Everything changed with the 1991 release of his breakthrough album "Girlfriend," with a vintage Tuesday Weld pic on the cover and an irresistible string of hit singles including "Divine Intervention" and "I've Been Waiting." Beginning in 2006, Sweet teamed up with Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles for a series of "Under the Covers" album on which they performed renditions of songs from the 60s, 70s and 80s. In 2017, Sweet returned with the solo recording "Tomorrow Forever," and has followed it up with "Tomorrow's Daughter" (Honeycomb Hideout), both of which sound as strong as the best of Sweet's earlier work.