If there was an event in this passing year that I wish I could have attended, it would have been the “classic” lineup reunion tour of Guided By Voices. This would have been the line-up most recognized for the albums Propeller (1992), Bee Thousand (1994), Alien Lanes (1995) and Under The Bushes, Under The Stars (1996) and most notably featuring Tobin Sprout as a co-contributor.
Sprout was always a good foil for GBV headman Robert Pollard. The former was folkie and poppy, where the latter liked louder guitars and sometimes drifted into proggy tangents. Of course, these wouldn’t be evident until later on (of around, let’s say, Mag Earwhig (1997), when Sprout was gone and most of the band was replaced by indie glammers Cobra Verde ) but the tendencies were there in those early 4-track cassette recordings.
Unlike a lot of GBV die-hards, I also have an appreciation for the over-produced major-minor days on TVT Records, as well as the subsequent return to Matador Records, when the band name was finally retired (and to celebrate it, Pollard recorded seventeen albums that afternoon, or so we’ve heard…) The TVT stuff takes the most heat, especially Do The Collapse (1999), produced by Ric Ocasek who, at turns, tried to make GBV sound like The Cars and Weezer. At that period, it was like your pet dog biting one of your fingers off. You wonder aloud, how could you do this to me? I fed you!
In retrospect, those records are pretty strong and are good examples of ’90s power-pop. Rob Schnapf, who produced Isolation Drills (2001), was able to get both the rawness and the clarity both parties were seemingly aiming for, but TVT was a minefield during those days. Juggling the rising Sevendust and the departure of Nine Inch Nails couldn’t have made the boardroom a friendly place for Pollard and his stream-of-consciousness-centered lyrics. If the listener can test themselves with the benefit of hindsight, they might come to like the final grade.
Plus, GBV still was a good band, but without Tobin Sprout, it wasn’t the same band. I liked it for altogether different reasons now, and enjoyed Sprout’s solo ventures to mull over the might-have-beens.
They went back to Matador, released a few, then that was it. Pollard released a few as well on his Fading Captain imprint. Since then, he’s been releasing records as a solo act and as a member of Circus Devils, Airport 5, Boston Spaceships, and even released a spoken word record with recorded drunken stage banter culled from his shows. By this time, I guess you could say I was firmly checked out from the hotel, so I’ve never heard this recording personally. But I always thought if GBV ever made a proper revival, I’d be on that like something on something else.
But, no, I couldn’t see GBV reunited. I only hope that the experience was enough of an indication to Pollard that maybe, just maybe, he could squeeze a new GBV venture in with the 80-or-so releases he’s liable to burp out this year. It could happen.
Meanwhile, here’s a micro-mixtape of some of my favorite GBV moments.