Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Guided By Voices: Devil Between My Toes (1987)

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
03 Cyclops
04 Crux
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
10 Artboat
11 Hey Hey, Spaceman
12 The Tumblers
13 Bread Alone
14 Captain's Dead

Box at Amazon.com


Anonymous said...

I love your site and agree with your assessments far more often than not, but i must offer a correction here: GbV did not actually sign with Scat Records until, i believe, 1992... So their first actual Scat release was Propeller. Scat has since re-issued the first four albums and King Shit in the "Box" set, but i don't think they ever got to release Forever Since Breakfast. According the the Jim Greer book, the band took it upon themselves to put FSB out on "I Wanna" a local Dayton label run by some DJ.

The Rock Robot said...

Holy crap, that is so very true. I'm surprised you are the first to note the glaring error - however, I'll leave it as it is since if someone is looking to buy it, they could go to the Scat website (I think Scat has it for like $40 or so).

Anonymous said...

Further nitpicking: The first GBV release on Scat was the "Grand Hour" 7" followed by the "Vampire on Titus" LP. The initial CD version of "Vampire" had "Propeller" tacked on as a bonus, and this turned out to be more important than a lot of people are willing to admit. The fact is that "Vampire" is a difficult GBV record. Critics would rave about "Vampire" but in their actual reviews it was almost always the "Propeller" songs that they would single out. Things would have turned out a lot differently if that hadn't happened.

Anonymous said...

DBMT might'nt be the greatest GBV album but there are sufficient terrific songs on there to make a topnotch e.p. - I'm thinking 1,2,3,9,11 & 14, all of which I still play lots. "Hank" & "Captain" are both GBV Top 20 for me - old fart y'see? IBx

aimee said...

The Tumblers is actually my favorite GBV song ever. It subtlety just strikes me.

cityofdaughters said...

From the first sentence this entry is full of errors. To add another correction to the slowly incresing amount, Tobin wasn't even playing in the band at this point.

Anonymous said...

Give Dog's Out, A Proud and Booming Industry and Hank's Little Fingers another shot. They are a nice little trio right in the middle of the album, and quite good.

Oh, and keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Great site!

On my list:

Captain's dead
Discussing Wallace Chambers
Hank's Little Fingers

Anonymous said...

I have been listening to this album on rotation on Spotify for the last few days. I think it's my favorite of the early stuff before Propeller. Although it might not be up to par with the later albums, like most Guided by Voices material, it has moments that reward the patient listener. It's amazing to think Robert Pollard was already this good back in 1987 when he was still an amateur just starting to figure out how to make albums, and his own identity as a songwriter. I had already heard Captain's Dead and Hey Hey, Spaceman off YouTube, but I really like The Tumblers, too, enough to wish that it could be part of a live set of rarities. Perhaps in an alternate universe.