Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Guided By Voices: Sandbox (1987)

1987 would see Guided By Voices release a second LP. In what would be one of GBV's dullest covers, would also be one of their most lackluster efforts. Even Robert Pollard felt that Sandbox was one of GBV's worst. Keep in mind though, that when we refer to GBV's worst, it is usually in consideration of what we expect from the band. Sandbox would be a mediocre album for any band, but for the standard we have come to expect from Robert Pollard, it becomes a greater letdown. With a similar lineup as that for Devil Between My Toes (review here), GBV went for a more standard straight forward rock and roll. The majority of Sandbox sounds like the least interesting tracks from Devil Between My Toes (I am referring to Dog's Out, Hank's Little Fingers, and Hey Hey Spaceman). We all know Robert Pollard can write a fairly decent rock track, but it is the slight oddness which he would later add to albums such as Propeller and Bee Thousand which makes his music transcend the usual rock fare...

GBV still sounds like REM on this one. Lips of Steel has a constant guitar riff accompanied by some fairly decent Pollard melody. It is representative of one particular aspect that GBV introduced in Sandbox which would be a staple; the one and a half minute rock song. Devil Between My Toes had some of these, but Sandbox is full of them (more than half the disc).

A Visit to the Creep Doctor is probably one of the best on the album, and since I need to have at least one song from each release on my personal GBV boxset/playlist, it will likely make the cut. Pollard actually sounds a lot like Ed Kowalczyk from Live on this cut, which is another minute long gem.

The next four tracks represent the "longer" songs on Sandbox. Everyday sounds like run-of-the-mill single fodder, and the four and a half minute long Barricade has some pretty good lead guitar (especially near the end), though is not interesting enough to hold the entire run time. Get to Know the Ropes gives us a glimpse of what will become GBV; with a gloomy lingering chorus, it would have fit nicely on the previous record.

The Drinking Jim Crow has some great grunge guitar between the verses, but still fails to connect with me the way other GBV songs do (maybe this is just me? Do any of you enjoy this record more?).

The shining gem on Sandbox is Long Distance Man. A minute long folksy tune that showcases Pollard's ability to take an otherwise straightforward acoustic chord progression and enhance it with some great vocal melody. If I can pinpoint one think that makes Guided By Voices better than the average band, it is Pollard's melodic instinct with his vocals.

I hate to give a "negative" review of anything Robert Pollard. This album isn't bad, it is just missing that GBV magic. There isn't any poor songs, just a bunch of tunes missing that extra umph that takes them to the next level. Maybe if they were recorded on 4 track with additional hiss, they would be better. The fact is that if you like any of the first four albums, or the rarities collection King Shit and the Golden Boys, then you end up buying Sandbox in the Box boxset.

Tracklist (Songs which are bolded will be put on my best of GBV playlist/box set):
01 Lips of Steel
02 A Visit to the Creep Doctor
03 Everyday
04 Barricade
05 Get to Know the Ropes
06 Can't Stop
07 The Drinking Jim Crow
08 Trap Soul Door
09 Common Rebels
10 Long Distance Man
11 I Certainly Hope Not
12 Adverse Wind

Box on Amazon


Anonymous said...

I love the effort you put into this site.... Now that all the niceties are out of the way.

I'm surprised that Barricade and Adverse Wind didn't make list.

I know you get this all the time, keep up the good work.



Eyes For Volume said...

Personally, this is one of my favorite GBV releases. I wouldn't skip a track.

Anonymous said...

How can you leave off Trap Soul Door??? Beautiful melody, beautiful song. Give it a chance...

Anonymous said...

I would never leave Trap Soul Door and The Drinking Jim Crow.

Unknown said...

I hear so many people dog this one...and maybe I'm crazy...but I love it. I'd place it among a highly conservative list of 6 absolutely must-have GBV/Pollard releases along with Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, Propeller, Under the Bushes and Speak Kindly. Can't believe the old man himself disowns this one. Also, a special shout-out to Washington State Unemployment Services, who made this 9:00 am rant possible.

Anonymous said...

This list is a odd one of what to include. Normally I think you include too much, but in this case, it's probably too little.

Everyday, Can't Stop, Trap Door Soul and I certainly Hope Not are all pretty good tunes, and probably better than Lips of Steel, which you included. Hooray for opinions!

Maybe give 'em another try?

Tim said...

If I had to pick one GBV-album that doesn't resemble any other record in the catalog, I'd pick this one over, say, "do the collapse". i'm not talking production value, i'm talking melodies. bob's melodies on this one are FAR poppier in a conventional sense than anywhere else. having said that, I kinda get both the lovers and haters of this one: I myself love "everyday"and "barricade" a lot, but I admit that I love them as songs per se, not as GBV-songs.

Marcao said...

Man, i really think the chorus of Adverse Wind is one of the best of all time! 'I feel you dying..." Oh, epic!
And Bob's voice is different here, love it!

Anonymous said...

On my list:

Trap Soul Door
I Certainly Hope Not
Long Distance Man
Adverse Wind

J├╝rgen De Blonde said...

Played it yesterday. Was amazed at the quality of this album. And 'Adverse Wind' needs way more love. Such energy!

Underappreciated album. But, I remember that, 20 years ago, Sandbox took me the longest to get into of the entire BOX. So I do understand. But, having a major GBV revival at the moment, it's great to re-discover all this stuff, old and new, and re-evaluate and appreciate these records. And this is a great one, actually.

(Haha, reCAPTCHA makes me say I'm not a robot. It should say 'I'm not goldstar robot boy' IMO)