As an experiment—with Internet distribution, with fans’ expectations, with her own limits—Funstyle is a more interesting Liz Phair album than the two glossy pop-rock records that preceded it. As an actual collection of songs to listen to, it’s—well, it’s not great. But it’s sort of perversely likable. Available as a download on her website for $5.99, it is an odd mash of “real” Liz Phair songs and loopy, self-referential novelty tunes. The first track she posted online was “Bollywood,” which was greeted by the kind horrified word-of-mouth that money just can’t buy. From its dated bhangra beat to its pseudo-rapping, its array of “funny” voices, and its stale complaints about record-company perfidy, everything about it is almost objectively embarrassing. It is clearly a joke, but it’s less clear what kind of joke. Does Liz really think she’s sticking it to the man here? Is she making fun of the whole idea of past-their-prime pop singers sticking it to the man? Or is she, as I suspect, just sort of dicking around? The thing is, once I’d gotten past the head-shaking WTF-ness of it all, I found myself enjoying it. It’s a silly song, and I have a soft spot for silliness.
Anyway, laffs aside (my other favorite is “U Hate It,” which starts out with two guys talking about how terrible the new Liz Phair song is), there are a few tracks worth seeking on their own merits. The grinding “Oh, Bangladesh” has the kind of buried hook Phair used to specialize in; “Miss September” is jaunty pop-rock; and “My My” is a surprisingly spry funk-rock workout. If Phair goes on to make another good record sometime, Funstyle will seem like a curious little career placeholder. If she doesn’t, well... we’ll always have “Bollywood.”