When reviewing the first Circus Devils release (Ringworm Interiors), I found it hard to convey how much I enjoyed the album while only selecting 8 out of 28 of the tracks for my ultimate GBV-related playlist. The problem was that the disc was great as a cohesive album, yet individual tracks were just too "out there" to sound in place on a GBV/Pollard mix. Well, the dynamic trio of Robert Pollard (vocals) and the Tobias' (Tim and Todd - all the guitar licks and weird noises) are back with The Harold Pig Memorial. This album is toned down quite a bit compared to Ringworm Interiors, and is generally a rather fine rock album...
Alaska To Burning Men starts things off with an intro which sounds a lot like the theme to Lost, then blends into a Metallica-ish ballad riff with Pollard's more haunting style of vocals. Saved Herself, Shaved Herself continues the mellow tone for about a minute until picking up to a decent beat with Pollard repeating the title lyrics. A fairly decent start which is not even remotely close to the strangeness of Ringworm Interiors.
Soldiers of June is extremely poppy/catchy, for a Circus Devil's release anyway. Once again, like on Ringworm Interiors (and Pinball Mars), Pollard does some Eddie Vedder impressions ("Counting holes in the moon/In thee moon"). Following is a wonderful minute and a half in I Guess I Needed That. The only thing this track is missing is another minute and a half. Things slow down again for Festival of Death, a mild folk ballad.
Five songs in, and there really isn't anything strange to mark this as a Circus Devil's release. In fact, it is so far a fairly decent rock album. This trend continues into Dirty World News which has an echoing Pollard talking over a juicy riff. May We See the Hostage? is the first track with a distinct Circus Devil's feel.This beautiful ballad is invaded by intermittent pounding of feedback, and then completely taken over by a sonic guitar solo. Do You Feel Legal? may be the closest thing Pollard has done which would fit nicely in a broadway musical, and A Birdcage Until Further Notice is proof that the atmosphere of Ringworm Interiors hasn't completely disappeared, though the song does not stray to far off of this album's more pop-like approach.
Injured? is a calm ride, and one of the more forgettable ones on this disc. In contrast Foxhead Delivery cranks the rock n' roll ("Its easy unless it rains/The night eats us alive"). Last Punk Standing is another straight forward rock tune (which Pollard always turns into something not so straight forward). It has three distinct parts which have it moving into rock opera territory.
And then there is Bull Spears. Likely among your journey finding out about the Circus Devils you have come across this song. Also, you likely have only read great wonderful things about it. There is a good reason for this...the track rocks! Perhaps the greatest Circus Devils song, Bull Spears starts off with a rocket of a riff, and quickly mellows to a grooving bass line, before exploding again for the grand finish. There is something purely addictive about this track, perhaps the same something that gives Shocker In Gloomtown its edge.
Discussions In The Cave is fairly weird, as is Recirculating Hearse. The latter continues the dark rock opera style of music, and even has some fuzzy distortion which sounds like bees. The strangeness continues into Pigs Can't Hide (On Their Night Off) which ends with some high-pitched squealing feedback. Haunting rock n' roll comes back with Exoskeleton Motorcade. This track features a grooving riff and some noises which I can only describe as chipmunk rap.
The top half of this album is fairly straight-away rock, whereas the bottom half finds the Circus Devils in Ringworm Interiors territory. After the interlude which is Real Trip No. 3, the Circus Devils throw in another minute or so of brilliance with Vegas ("Vegas, oooohhh"). The Pilot's Crucifixion/Indian Oil has some funky riffs during the Indian Oil portion of the song, and Tulip Review features the sounds of bottles clashing. Finally, the title track finishes the album. The Harold Pig Memorial moves into Nine Inch Nails territory with its haunting piano in front of ambient noise.
Is The Harold Pig Memorial better than Ringworm Interiors? The quick answer is no. However, it is far more accessible. 10 out of 22 tracks make my playlist, compared to 8 out of 28 from Ringworm Interiors. However, The Harold Pig Memorial toned down some of the more exciting aspects of its predecessor and took a more straight forward approach, generally creating a slightly strange rock album. Overall I would say Ringworm Interiors is more exciting, but it has a few tracks which border on the unlistenable, preventing it from being as instantly accessible as The Harold Pig Memorial.
Tracklisting (songs in bold make my ultimate GBV/Pollard playlist/box set):
01 Alaska To Burning Men
02 Saved Herself, Shaved Herself
03 Soldiers Of June
04 I Guess I Needed That
05 Festival Of Death
06 Dirty World News
07 May We See The Hostage?
08 Do You Feel Legal?
09 A Birdcage Until Further Notice
11 Foxhead Delivery
12 Last Punk Standing
13 Bull Spears
14 Discussions In The Cave
15 Recirculating Hearse
16 Pigs Can't Hid (On Their Night Off)
17 Exoskeleton Motorcade
18 Real Trip No. 3
20 The Pilot's Crucifixion/Indian Oil
21 Tulip Review
22 The Harold Pig Memorial