Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Guided By Voices: Suitcase - Failed Experiments and Trashed Aircraft: DISC TWO (2000)

After being dazzled by some prime cuts in Disc One, I was a little disappointed with Disc Two. Though it still follows the pattern of focusing on outtakes from Bee Thousand, Same Place The Fly Got Smashed, and Do The Collapse, as well as grabbing songs from aborted albums Power Of Suck, Back To Saturn X, and Learning To Hunt, Disc One appears to have a better collection. The highlights of Disc Two include the beautiful Supermarket The Moon, which actually had a case for itself for inclusion in Bee Thousand, a wonderful version of Ha Ha Man, and another gem in Our Value Of Luxury. Hey, and it has the Back To Saturn X version of Damn Good Mr. Jam, so it is not without its charms...

Just as Disc One started excellent, as does Disc Two. Supermarket The Moon is a hauntingly beautiful acoustic track that was left off of Bee Thousand. Perhaps it was an issue with pace, as this slow song may have interrupted Bee Thousand's flow. However, I think it would have made a nice finisher. I am not a fan of Hold On To Yesterday, which is likely due to me not really liking Mitch Mitchell's vocals. However, the fans of GBV are in for another early treat with an excellent version of Ha Ha Man, which is even more rockin' than the one on Tonics and Twisted Chasers.

Our Value Of Luxury is from the aborted album Back To Saturn X, and it has one of the nicest choruses of those songs from the Suitcase box set. It also contains the lyric "we've got airplanes", so bonus. It is followed by a Power Of Suck cut, Bughouse. There are actually two versions in one track of Bughouse, the second being mainly a psychedelic version of the first. Another Bee Thousand outtake, Rainbow Billy, is an acoustic ditty which sounds like it becomes a joke during the last half. Since we are talking about Bee Thousand outtakes, lets also mention Tabacco's Last Stand and Shit Midas. I guess the most efficient way of explaining what I think of these tracks is that only Supermarket The Moon had any real chance of making Bee Thousand.

Shrine to the Dynamic Years is a Do The Collapse outtake, and would challenge most songs on the album for inclusion. After hearing the Do The Collapse outtakes from Disc One, and of course those B-sides from Hold On Hope, it is becoming clearer just how on the ball GBV was in 1998.

The Concert For Todd track On Short Wave fails to really stand out at all, and the aborted Learning To Hunt song I Can See It In Your Eyes would blend in perfectly in Sandbox. I can not say I am a big fan of Shifting Swift Is A Lift, though I like the title. It is an odd multipal vocals experiment from Pollard. Sing It Out, which was recorded in 1992, is also non-spectacular, but it looks like GBV played it live a lot in 2001, so maybe this is a fairly decent find for some fans who caught those shows.

I really like Messenger, an oldie from 1985, where Pollard sounds more like Roy Orbison, and less like Michael Stipe. GBV really was a different beast before Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia came out in 1989, but they did know how to rock right from the beginning. The Fool Ticket is one of those songs which I can see myself getting into the more I listen to it. It is a brooding 90's grunge anti-ballad which manages to sound far more complex than one would expect its four continuous chords and repeated chorus to sound. Mallard Smoke is a distortion filled punk romp with quite possibly Pollard's worst lyrics ever, and Mr. Mc Caslin Will Sell No More Flowers sounds like an answering machine greeting.

Another Learning To Hunt track makes an appearance, Blue Gil, and I am starting to think that Learning To Hunt could have been called Sandbox II. Maybe I'm missing something, and maybe someone could clue me in, but was Learning To Hunt a turning point in GBV's career? Is this where Pollard made the drastic shift from Sandbox to Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia? Did he just stand up and say, "Enough of this! We're cancelling this album and going to go somewhere completely different! And we're going to start if off with a song about eggs!" Just wondering.

Invest In British Steel is an instrumental from 1985, and Spinning Around is an even older track from 1983. It sounds like this is when Pollard first learned about the tremolo effect. Let's Go! (To War) is another minute infusion of punk, and Grasshopper Rap is an outtake from Same Place The Fly Got Smashed which was properly left off. I'm Cold is from '87, and would have fit nicely on Devil Between My Toes as GBV's sound is quite distinctive during that era. In Walked The Moon starts out sounding like Pink Floyd, continues with the prog rock style throughout.

I have only picked five songs for my setlist so far, and must say that the bottom half of Disc Two is generally so so. Is there something I left off, something that deserves its own paragraph? Well, I see that I have not yet covered this version of Damn Good Mr. Jam. This is a psychedelic take meant for the aborted album Back To Saturn X, and is simply not as good as the Static Airplane Jive version...but still important enough to get its own paragraph, because, hey, its Damn Good Mr. Jam. There is some crazy guitar wailing near the end that you should definately check out.

I took ten tracks from Disc One of Suitcase, 10 really decent tracks. Disc Two only gets five picks from me (and I'm still undecided about The Fool Ticket...oh hell, let's put it on) make that six tracks. Still, Six tracks out of twenty-five does not make a great album, though I am beginning to see the potential of a stellar personal best of Suitcase mix...

Tracklisting (songs in bold make my ultimate GBV/Pollard playlist/box set):

01 Supermarket The Moon
02 Hold On To Yesterday
03 Ha Ha Man
04 Our Value Of Luxury
05 Bughouse (2 Versions)
06 Rainbow Billy
07 Shrine To The Dynamic Years (Athens Time Change Riots)
08 On Short Wave
09 I Can See It In Your Eyes
10 Tobacco's Last Stand
11 Shifting Swift Is A Lift
12 Sing It Out
13 Messenger
14 The Fool Ticket
15 Mallard Smoke
16 Mr. Mc Caslin Will Sell No More Flowers
17 Shit Midas
18 Blue Gil
19 Invest In British Steel
20 Spinning Around
21 Let's Go! (To War)
22 Grasshopper Rap
23 I'm Cold
24 Damn Good Mr. Jam
25 In Walked The Moon


Dan said...

ok, i have something to tell you. for four or so years now (since i first heard suitcase), "sing it out" has been my FAVORITE pollard song. that's right, of his entire catalog, "sing it out" continues to be tops. absolute tops, in the ranks of "tractor rape chain," "echoes myron," "bunco men," etc etc.

i love the sound, the energy of the performance, the stark recording, and especially the gorgeous melody. it so perfectly sums up what i love about GBV. so, i dunno, don't call it non-spectacular. 'cause it IS.

other than that, nice work :)

The Rock Robot said...

Hi Dan,

I thought I'd give it another listen. No, still not spectacular (to me). Of course, my meaning in the word spectacular (as well as when I say songs 'Don't stand out'), is slightly different than the norm. My review of songs on this blog are usually in direct relation to other GBV-related tunes, or even other songs on the same album as one another. And I totally understand (and am not in the least surprised) in your love for this particular tune.

Also, it depends on the day. Sometimes everything sounds great, and sometimes everything sounds a bit sour. I found in my reviewing/listening of Suitcase, that I was overly optimistic about the songs within, especially since I had little time with it before creating my entry. I guarantee you that I put songs on the playlist from Suitcase that are a lot worse than ones that I left off of, say, something like Universal Truths & Cycles.

It all comes back to the fact that we all love GBV, and every single song is someone's favorite. The great thing about the blog format is that others can express their opinions of certain songs/albums, which are contrary to my own.

Thanks for the comment!

skfl said...

i think that disc two here is a quintessential guided by voices experience - while disc one does jump out at you right off the bat, this second disc has way more rewards and just seems to hang together as an experience / album as opposed to a collection of decent songs. and, if not else, robert pollard will always be the guy that let an amazing song like "messenger" sit in a box for 20 years simply because he was doing so much other great stuff.

in conclusion - give disc two another shot; it has been my favorite of the set for quite some time...

Anonymous said...

I know this post is a bit old so not sure if you will see it, but I picked up Suitcase yesterday and I hope you give Blue Gil another listen. The chorus for that song is awesome! Hope you keep posting, would love to see your thoughts on the new GBV and Pollard releases.

Anonymous said...

I think I like disc 2 a tad more than you did, but then again it has never occurred to me to compare them to each other.

On my list:

Let's Go! (To War)
Ha Ha Man
Our Value Of Luxury - shades of early eighties The Fall here
In Walked The Moon - heartbreaking
Shrine To The Dynamic Years (Athens Time Change Riots) - best post-Bushes outtake by far. A major song.
Blue Gil - great with Boston Spaceships too
I'm Cold
I Can See It In Your Eyes - a pop smash, vastly superior to Messenger in my book
Supermarket The Moon - would work as well as You're Not An Airplane as B1000s closer.