Why Why Can’t I by Liz Phair is a great production.

When Liz Phair released her self titled fourth CD with production by The Matrix, many jumped off her band wagon. The decision to use The Matrix was something of a catastrophic mistake by her label in terms of keeping Liz a viable artist into the future. For those of you who don’t know, The Matrix were the team that launched Avril Lavigne and several other teen singers into superstardom.

In Liz’s case, it was a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. She had spent many years cultivating a rabid cult following that now felt betrayed by what they saw as a sell out.┬áMost people only heard the single, Why Can’t I, a pop masterpiece that really showcased what The Matrix could do if paired with a legitimate singer/songwriter. This production, in my humble opinion, is a home run and, in a fair and reasonable world, should have catapulted Liz into the stratosphere. Instead, it almost derailed her career. Understandably, I suppose but regrettably i believe.

Many see this as a big production but in actual fact, it’s just using a few elements to their maximum potential. The song begins with a seductive intro which, to these ears sounds like a distorted keyboard playing a pretty melody. Maybe it’s a guitar, who cares! The distortion in this case is not fuzzy like garage rock but instead, fuzzy like a warm, fuzzy teddy bear. The verse is just acoustic guitar, bass and drums and Liz singing a very melodic, uh, melody, with some of The Matrix’s patented radio voice call and answer. After four bars we get a new element which is a very discreet keyboard part. The pre chorus does exactly what a pre chorus is supposed to do, it helps the song climb into the chorus. The hi hat opens up, the vocal melody goes up in range, we get a more intense guitar part and there’s a short stop before we blast into the chorus.

The chorus is the main event. But it’s not like there are a ton of elements. It’s big for a few reasons. One, the vocal melody goes up again and the melody is, as the kids say, epic. The vocal is doubled and there are beautiful harmonies. There are low end-y distorted guitars that are giving the whole thing tons of weight. And that’s pretty much it. That’s how you create a gigantic chorus if you know what you are doing. No horn section or symphony orchestra or bells or whistles. Just meticulous use of what’s at your disposal. We finish by going into a re-intro with the warm fuzzy keys and the radio voice call and answer that was recycled from Hilary Duff’s So Yesterday, also a killer track.

The second verse goes down again in dynamics and we get some creative use of Liz’s vocals-using single tracks, double tracks and harmonies to make each line special.

That same philosophy guides the bridge. The producers use Liz as a call and answer with herself. It starts with an effected Liz paired with and octaved Liz. This is answered by a double Liz, one in each speaker. The last line has a dry Liz joining the effected one, which brings tons of intimacy to that last line, ‘baby I’m dying’.

Next we have a great dynamic shift that sports Liz singing the chorus with just a very nice sounding clean guitar. Clean guitars have not been a highlight of most pop or rock productions since the grunge era. Most clean guitars are just whatever the dudes amp sounds like when he clicks off all his pedals. This one feels like someone actually dialed it up to sound nice coming out of the amp. Then there is the unexpected re entry into the chorus, on the second beat of the bar, which creates lots of excitement and makes the chorus feel even bigger if such a thing is even possible.

This production is great because the producers took the time to cross the t’s and dot the i’s. Everything is well thought out and the potential of each element was maximized. Why Can’t I also has a great lyric, a perfect pop melody with lots of sunny harmonies and absolutely amazing sounds. A technical and artistic masterpiece, in my opinion and something that should be listened to without prejudice.

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