Essential, absolutely essential. From the opening bassline of A Salty Salute (GBV's drinking song), through my favorite Guided By Voices track of all time (My Valuable Hunting Knife), and up to the brilliant closer (Alright), Alien Lanes is pure rock n' roll gold. There are 28 tracks on this disc, most just over a minute in length, all tempting you to pull out the old air guitar and dance around in your kitchen. As Propeller, Vampire on Titus, and Bee Thousand all have a legitimate claim to the greatest GBV album, Alien Lanes can be added to that mix...
The CD is put in the player, the bassline of A Salty Salute begins, and you are brought right into the magic that is Alien Lanes. GBV's song about drinking (or their drinking song), is a live staple and the source to GBV's neon sign "The Club is Open". I could have this track on repeat and listen to it all day.
Evil Speakers is a wonderful fifty-eight seconds, with a right into the middle of things intro ("I am breathing, yet I feel no sky"). The song defies structure, and it sounds as if we have been thrown into the middle of a song, and leave before it is finished. Watch Me Jumpstart is another rock anthem ("Straight from ground zero, x marks the spot/I can't pretend to be be something I'm not/'Cause I'm a supernova erect and white hot"). A continuous riff drives this song, and an excellent chorus help make it a GBV "hit".
They're Not Witches is another under a minute track; a quick haunting little acoustic song. Guided By Voices channel The Beatles for As We Go Up We Go Down, one of my favorite more acoustic tracks. I can't help but get pumped when the line "I speak in monotone: Leave my fucking life alone" is sung, as it is a contradiction to the happy, everything is hunky-dory style music. (I Wanna Be A) Dumbcharger sounds as if it is a portion of a larger song. This is another darker track (in fact it would sound okay on a Circus Devils album - have I mentioned how much the Circus Devils rock yet? I guess I won't be at 2001 for a while yet, so hold on).
Alright, before I get any hate mail for not including Game of Pricks, let me just say that the reason is because I am adding the single version...that's all. Yes there is something to say for the lo-fi version, but I prefer the single, more produced version (and I love the tacked on intro on that version too). Be as that may, Game of Pricks is another rock anthem (this album is full of them).
The Ugly Vision is another haunter, but it has one of the most beautiful finishes (it kind of reminds me of Bright Paper Werewolves from Under the Bushes, Under the Stars). A Good Flying Bird is a Tobin Sprout minute long pop gem, which in that short time manages to fit in two verses, two choruses, and whatever that other thing is called (Interlude? Bridge?). Cigarette Tricks is eighteen seconds long, and the first track on Alien Lanes I won't put on my playlist, mostly because it is so short I guess.
Pimple Zoo is odd, it is just Pollard yelling "Sometimes I get the feeling that you don't want me around", but it rocks so hard. This is what I call a quick shot (42 seconds) of rock, maybe one of those "prescriptions" Pollard is talking about in I Am A Scientist. Big Chief Chinese Restaurant gets in on the playlist due to that weird/yet cool solo that kicks in halfway, just wonderful. The Closer You Are is an obvious add on to the playlist, a two minute (epic?) pop melody which is sometimes unbearably catchy.
It took a while for me to get into Auditorium. Is wasn't until I saw it paired with Motor Away in the video for the two songs that I realize the genius in the positioning of the two tracks. By itself, Auditorium is an okay song, but as an intro to Motor Away, it is awesome. As for Motor Away, you must hear this song before you die. I see it as a brother to Game of Pricks, as they are similar musically. I think I even like this version more than the single one, but am still a bit undecided. I also would like to play it after Auditorium on the box set I will be creating when this is all over. This is rock n' roll.
I honestly don't see what the big deal is about Hit, a twenty second song. It found its way onto the GBV Best Of album Human Amusements, so maybe I'm missing something, or maybe it was the representative for GBV's twenty second songs. Since it is a harmless twenty seconds, I'll put it on the playlist.
And now on to the one song that makes me dance more than any other, with my air guitar flailing uncontrollably; My Valuable Hunting Knife. The lyrics, perfect. The melody/vocals, perfect. And the guitar, unbelievable. How is this song not a worldwide hit!? The guitar riff in this track is so good, I could listen to it by itself all day. There is also a single version, which is quite interesting, and different enough to maybe get added to the playlist as well as this version. I do like the Alien Lanes version more.
Gold Hick is another thirty-second quicky which I'm passing on. Hey, I took Hit. King and Caroline is a beautiful track which reminds me of a few tracks from Bee Thousand. It is a simple, bare-bones melody which finishes off with some great multi-voice chorus. Oh, I haven't even covered Striped White Jets yet. Another great rocker, Striped White Jets has a riff lurking in the background until the fourth part of the verse, then the song is blown wide open into a distorted heaven. I always said how I felt Weed King should never have been left off of the Best Of, Human Amusements. Striped White Jets is another that should have made that album. It's purpose as an introduction album could have used Striped White Jets to show GBV's heavier side.
Ex-Supermodel is not making my playlist, and yes it is because of the snoring sound going on throughout. Blimps Go 90 sounds like something that should be heard on the radio, a surefire radio hit if given the chance. It is way better than all that Matchbox 20 crap. Therefore I'll call Blimps Go 90 a 90's pop hit, even though it wasn't.
Strawdogs is another Tobin Sprout song, but not his best from this album (that is reserved for Little Whirl). His songs have a way of taking me back to the 60's, a decade in which I never lived actually, being born in '81. As for Little Whirl, it is the wicked chorus that makes this song great ("I don't care what you do anymore"). This is one of Tobin's finest. Chicken Blows uses a tremolo type effect on the vocals which makes it sound like Pollard is singing underwater. It is actually a very nice song, which after a couple of listens stops sounding weird in any way.
My Son Cool has never really stood out for me. It is definately the closest track that makes my playlist to not making it. I like the bottom half where Pollard is just singing "Around you my love" over and over. I'm throwing Always Crush Me in the throwaway pile, even though the guitar riff is pretty cool. I'm not a very big fan of the vocals on this one.
The longest track at just under three minutes is the finale, Alright. This is a beautiful, nearly instrumental fuzz-rock outro. Everything from the passionate drumming, distorted power chords, beautiful lead, and minimal vocals of the word "alright" sang four times, make this a perfect song.
Alien Lanes is great. I would suggest that it be among the earlier GBV purchases for a new fan. It may be the most rocking of all Guided By Voices albums, and at 28 tracks (most of which are awesome), how can you go wrong?
Tracklisting (songs in bold make my GBV/Pollard playlist/box set):
01 A Salty Salute
02 Evil Speakers
03 Watch Me Jumpstart
04 They're Not Witches
05 As We Go Up, We Go Down
06 (I Wanna Be A) Dumbcharger
07 Game of Pricks *
08 The Ugly Vision
09 A Good Flying Bird
10 Cigarette Tricks
11 Pimple Zoo
12 Big Chief Chinese Restaurant
13 Closer You Are
15 Motor Away
17 My Valuable Hunting Knife
18 Gold Hick
19 King and Caroline
20 Striped White Jets
22 Blimps Go 90
24 Chicken Blows
25 Little Whirl
26 My Son Cool
27 Always Crush Me
* - I will likely include the single version, not the one from Alien Lanes
Alien Lanes at Amazon