In 1987, Guided By Voices released their first record. The lineup during this era included Robert Pollard on vocals/guitar, Mitch Mitchell on bass, Jim Pollard, Tobin Sprout, and Steve Wilbur playing guitar, and Kevin Fennell on drums. This was not, however, GBV's first release on Scat. Forever Since Breakfast, an EP, was released prior to this. I will cover that EP when I get to the Hardcore UFO's box set. Currently, the only way to get this album is in the Box box set, which contains the first four GBV releases as well as a rarities disc. Chances are if you are a fan of GBV, however, it is not because of this album...
There is little resemblance to what GBV would later become on this record. The comparison I see most often for this record, and the most apt, is that early GBV sounds like Murmur era REM. In fact, this record may be GBV's furthest from Vampire on Titus. There is no tape hiss to be found as the record was recorded in a studio, and actually comes off fairly professional, though it does have a minimalist rock sound. Where the connection is made between early GBV and later GBV is in Robert Pollard's mastery of melody. There are some good songs on Devil Between My Toes, and it is possible for a non-GBV fan to enjoy this one.
The album starts off with two catchy pop would-be hits. Old Battery has a main riff which makes you want to dance, to a song about mortality no-less. Discussing Wallace Chambers could be mistaken as REM, with Robert Pollard channeling Michael Stipe almost to perfection.
I am still mostly undecided about Cyclops, which is a pretty mediocre affair. Sometimes I am really into it, others I skip straight passed it, keep going past the would-be spectacular if it had vocals Crux, into the dark five minute epic A Portrait Destroyed By Fire. This is the best track on the album, and sounds like something Depeche Mode might cook up (think Walking in My Shoes).
Dog's Out, Hank's Little Fingers, and Hey Hey Spaceman are all more upbeat tracks on a somewhat dour album. They are listenable if not fairly good, though nowhere close to GBV classics. [EDIT - Mar. 03 2006 - Changed my mind on Hey Hey Spacemen. It is a fairly decent track and I'm adding it to the playlist] A Proud and Booming Industry and Artboat are classic Pollard throwaways (though there is a song titled A Proud and Booming Industry on Suitcase 2 which is pretty good, though has no similarity to this one).
The Tumblers is a quiet and modest tune which at sometimes is quite beautiful. it is definately the album's ballad. Captain's Dead may be the most famous song on the album, due its inclusion on the Best Of album in 2003. Its the (heaviest? fastest?) song on the album, which may not mean much considering how leaned back Devil Between My Toes is. It is, however, representative of what GBV would become masters of; the short two minute shot of rock and roll.
This is overall a good album. It has some excellent songs such as Old Battery, Captain's Dead, and A Portrait Destroyed By Fire. It is just a different machine than what we have come to know as Guided By Voices. And why are there no vocals put on Crux?! Its a great tune. As far as this album being an essential part of a GBV collection, I would say no. I would place it on the latter half of Robert Pollard related purchases, though I do find I like it the more I listen to it.
Tracklisting (songs in bold I have chosen for my personal GBV boxset/playlist)
01 Old Battery
02 Discussing Wallace Chambers
05 A Portrait Destroyed By Fire
06 3 Year Old Man
07 Dog's Out
08 A Proud and Booming Industry
09 Hank's Little Fingers
11 Hey Hey, Spaceman
12 The Tumblers
13 Bread Alone
14 Captain's Dead
Box at Amazon.com