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
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