It’s only fitting then that “Never Said”, the lead single from Exile in Guyville and the track ostensibly chosen to introduce Liz Phair to the world, would be a song where she repeatedly, defensively, and sometimes unconvincingly swears that she “never said nothing”.
Liz Phair once said that she composed Exile in Guyville not for fame or for the masses, but rather “made the whole album for a couple of people to see and know me.” This is the kind of difficult and complicated confession that makes Guvyille so powerful and, ultimately, so effectively subversive. Phair was aiming not high, but pointedly, wishing to prove herself capable and courageous to select naysayers in the Chicago indie scene. It’s only fitting then that “Never Said”, the lead single from Guyville and arguably its most “radio friendly” track, the one ostensibly chosen to pique listener interest and introduce Phair to the world, would be a song where she repeatedly, defensively, and sometimes unconvincingly swears that she “never said nothing”. In her first bid to be heard, to communicate something of her self and her musical message, she promised that she hadn’t “utter[ed] a sound”.
“Never Said” offers familiar narrative elements: a supposed-to-be-secret tryst, the juvenile practice of takesiesbacksies, the spreading and denial of rumors, and the aching frustration of being stuck somewhere between the truth and someone else’s manipulation of it. Musically, it’s one of the album’s highlights, and like any good single from just about any good record, it easily and successfully stands on its own merits. But for all of the catchiness of its single-line chorus, its era-appropriate layering of grungy and wailing guitars, its shimmery drum beats and modest tempo shifts, “Never Said” is startling in its undoing of the four previous tracks’ character developments. In one fell swoop, that quiet control Phair’s persona has taken (so far) over her album-long circumstance all but disintegrates as she performs this backpedaling act, suddenly cornered in a damned-if-she-do-or-don’t predicament, the sovereignty she’s claimed for herself so abruptly undermined.