"Funstyle," the left-field collection of new songs that Phair released digitally in July (and sees an official CD issue on Tuesday), is a batch of occasionally wacky and frequently uncomfortable songs, full of lyrical in-jokes and sonic experiments. No one knew she had new music; she slipped it onto her website quietly, and for weeks the new songs, particularly the daffy "Bollywood," were roundly bashed, usually in 140 deeply insightful characters or less. It's pretty bad stuff, don't get me wrong -- much of it sounding unfinished, poorly arranged, tossed off -- and probably shouldn't have seen the light of day. But since we got the glimpse of, I'll say it, an artist in progress, I can't help but admire the open-minded moxie of this chick.
She clearly has no idea what to do with herself anymore but, by God, she's trying, determined to find some new way to channel her still-obvious (even here) songwriting talent and considerable vigor. World-rap? Try it! ("Bollywood") Dance-pop? Give it a whirl! ("My My") She's tried going the Lisa Marie Presley mom-rock route, but here she rails against the Chicago stroller brigade ("Beat Is Up"). Who is this woman? Don't ask her. She herself admitted this "free-for-all" is just a bunch of music "refracted through my own crazy lens," the operative word being "crazy."
But combing through "Funstyle," picking out the few salvageable nits ("You Should Know Me"), I can't help remain optimistic that this lost artist will return to port, that one day she'll stop wallowing in demos (the CD of "Funstyle" also includes tracks from the fabled 1991 "Girlysound" tapes) and half-finished, half-baked ideas and wallop us with one more visceral rush of adrenaline, tying together all these stylistic wanderings into a coherent statement. It may take a collaboration, guidance by the right producer, but it could still happen. Laugh if you must, but I believe.