The Legends of Laurel Canyon
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You The Best
Transfiguration of Vincent
Christmas in the Heart
Glitter and Doom Live
Let It Roll: The Best of George Harrison
Secret, Profane & Sugarcane
Playing for Change
For the four other people in the universe who might be interested in knowing something about this ‘Box’, here goes. "Box" is a compilation of Guided By Voices’ first four albums, recorded in utter obscurity, and an extra album of out-takes and various bits and pieces. Most of it sounds as though it were recorded using string and a dixie cup, so if you’re a fan of fidelity, you’re in the wrong place. Parts of it are so ridiculous as to be absurd, but there’s something quite intriguing going on here, especially in terms of creativity and melodic ideas. Still, though, most people won’t find it worth the effort; while I liken it to finding hidden gems in a quarry, my son thinks it’s more like finding worms in a dirt-clot. His opinion will probably serve the majority, but here’s a quick oversight of the five disks in this box;
Devil Between My Toes - This is one strange disk, but it is also one of the easiest to adapt to. Lyrically, songwriter Robert Pollard displays random bouts of genius. On a song called "Old Battery" he creates images of ill health and religion and (for instance) summarizes "With your crucifix you think it’s fixed, and yet you……die hard" ("Old Battery", get it?). While nearly half of this album might be categorized as semi-unlistenable, the other half is downright witty, and catchy. Even the ridiculous bits are nearly sublime. One song goes "We’re watching Hank’s (watching Hank’s) little fingers", and it’s a gas to sing along with. "Hey Hey Spaceman" is a 90 second tune (not at all unusual for these guys) about a kid "taking off to Jimmy’s house, every day at 3". You ought to hear it. I really like this disk. I’d say I found eight worms out of fourteen dirt clots – a better ratio than any Mariah Carey album, I can assure you.
Sandbox – This took a few listens, but I now think it’s almost great. "Lips of Steel," "A Visit to the Creep Doctor" and "The Drinking Jim Crow" (can you believe these titles?) display a thoroughly original and personal approach to songwriting, while the 70-second wonder "Long Distance Man" would segue beautifully into the Beatles "Nowhere Man." "Barricade" is the album’s ‘work of art, though. In the 4 _ minutes that it takes to unfold, the song moves through something like six separate musical ideas, all of which are tied together by the lyrical concept of self-alienation. And what can be said about a lyric like "In the critical lie of the fashion world, I become the aggressor of noone."? Clever and fun, even when it’s sloppy, Sandbox is one heck of a piece of work. Worms to dirt-clots? 9 out of 12.
Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia - With a title like that, what can possibly be said? With song titles like "The Future Is in Eggs" and "The Great Blake St. Canoe Race," I doubt I’m qualified to say anything. This is another one that can grow on you slowly, if you’re inclined to listen, but it’s doubtful you would be. Instead of getting more professional, Pollard and company seem willfully bent on using cassette tapes to master their albums. I remain intrigued, though, and would hand out yet another ‘passing grade’ to this ex-school teacher and his cohorts. Any record that buries a song as strange and simply beautiful as "Liar’s Tale" is all right with me; 9 worms/5 dirt clots.
Same Place the Fly Got Smashed – OK, this one is REALLY tough. First of all, it’s the MOST lo-fi of the bunch, and that is really saying something. It starts out with a two-minute indecipherable rant, and eventually coalesces into a theme album about a suffering alcoholic – not quite ‘The Wizard of Oz’ conceptually, I can assure you. It’s also the most harrowingly personal album of the bunch, making it off limits to all but those who are already hooked by Robert Pollard’s enigmatic persona. At moments Pollard sounds like a hayseed Jim Morrison. At other times it’s just too ridiculous to matter. Less worms, more dirt clots – 5 of 13.
King Shit and the Golden Boys – This is either a random collection of worthless noise, or a compendium of random acts of willful creativity. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. 19 songs pass by in 40 minutes, making it impossible to understand what the heck is happening without repeated listening. Either way, it’s definitely for fans only. The worms to dirtclots ratio here is probably about 50/50.
If you’re intrigued, go to www.gbv.com . There are song samples, and you can even buy this if you’re inclined (and adventurous).