To create what may be the most beautiful album in the GBV catalog, the dynamic duo of Tobin Sprout and Robert Pollard got back together in 2001 to follow up on 1996's Tonics and Twisted Chasers. However this time around, the two decided not to fly under the banner of Guided By Voices, but as Airport 5. Airport 5 (and of course GBV's Tonics and Twisted Chasers) is characterized as having softer, beatier, and keyboard-based grooves, which strays from the rock of GBV quite a bit. With two "hit" singles already released (Total Exposure and Stifled Man Casino), Airport 5 was starting to look less like a side-project, and more like a new band. However, with a release one year later (Life Starts Here), Airport 5 would only see two releases to date...
The album starts off with Burns Carpenter, Man of Science. Right off the bat, you get the feeling that this is truly Airport 5, with its low key intro riff, and that atmosphere straight out of Tonics and Twisted Chasers. The chorus of "This kind of love will destroy the ozone" is a beautiful contrast to the plain-talking verses from Pollard. It is immediately followed by the single Total Exposure, which continues the ballad into of the album. Another gorgeous song, Total Exposure highlights the great melodies Pollard and Sprout can create together.
Subatomic Rain almost sounds like it comes straight out of the 80's, with its driving guitar effects, and Pollard's high-pitched vocals during the chorus. It kind of reminds me of U2 (which in general, is a good thing). One More starts off with some Pollard screaming, and is the first break from slow, Airport 5 ballads. It is more of a straight-forward rocker which has been growing on me more with every listen. However, things slow right down again with Mission Experiences. These minute and a half interludes are plentiful within the GBV catalog, which really makes it hard for certain songs (such as Mission Experiences) to stand out from the pack.
The Cost of Shipping Cattle finds Pollard back into his reading poetry style singing/talking, which I generally do not like as much as when he sings (however, it works great on Airport 5's Yellow Wife No. 5 on their next release Life Starts Here). A few minutes of pretty music follow the introduction, and Pollard returns to talk over what may be one of the most gorgeous riffs in the GBV-related canon. It is simple, and beautiful.
Circle of Trim sounds very Tobin, and you almost expect him to start singing, but it is actually Pollard which takes vocal duties once again. By this time, it is becoming quite obvious that Airport 5's goal is to make a damn beautiful record, with simple yet lovely riffs, and eerie atmosphere. Pollard oozes melody when he sings "Find a fine citizen in the Circle of Trim", and Tower in the Fountain of Sparks is quickly becoming something special in the GBV catalog.
War & Wedding has the synthesizer in full swing, and continues the albums theme. It is a short, but sweet ditty, which is followed by the almost out of place rocker (and single) Stifled Man Casino. I cannot say enough good things about Stifled Man Casino, as it would have fit perfectly on any rock radio station. I would love to hear a more polished version of this track, and it appears to have been played live a few times in 2001. Up the Nails slows things down again, and it definately has a singer/songwriter quality to it (you know, like something from John Cougar Mellancamp).
Tomorrow You May Rise contains the album title lyric, and has some heavy effect on Pollard's vocals, which adds substance to the one-minute long track. Feathering Clueless (The Exotic Freebird) almost gets hidden behind all the great tracks on Tower in the Fountain of Sparks, but after a few listens, its constant riff's beauty shows through (similar to that of The Cost of Shipping Cattle). Even the cheesy "ta ta-ta taa" at the end doesn't distract from it too much.
Mansfield on the Sky is bordering on making the playlist. Like most songs on Tower in the Fountain of Sparks, it has required many listens to capture me fully. I enjoy the ending of the song when Pollard sings "better go/oh, no/better stay/hey, hey/better go/better stay", and the song just fits so perfectly on the album. It is followed by the minute long White Car Creek, which is drowned in (phaser?) effect. The album concludes with Remain Lodging (At Airport 5), which might be the worst (though not terrible) track on the otherwise excellent album.
Tower in the Fountain of Sparks is even better than Tonics and Twisted Chasers, and might find itself in my top ten GBV-related releases. It is probably the prettiest release, with a bunch of soft and low-key ballads (and two rockers in Stifled Man Casino and One More). Pollard and Sprout definately stuck to a theme on this album, and therefore, created something that was cohesive as an album, and filled a particular niche within the GBV world.
Tracklisting (Songs in bold make my ultimate Pollard/GBV playlist/box set):
01 Burns Carpenter, Man of Science
02 Total Exposure
03 Subatomic Rain
04 One More
05 Mission Experiences
06 The Cost of Shipping Cattle
07 Circle of Trim
08 War & Wedding
09 Stifled Man Casino
10 Up the Nails
11 Tomorrow You May Rise
12 Feathering Clueless (The Exotic Freebird)
13 Mansfield on the Sky
14 White Car Creek
15 Remain Lodging (At Airport 5)