Review Summary: To heal you, we have love.
This is the LP debut for Guided by Voices. You can tell and you can’t.
You can tell by how tickled it is by its influences; after all, the album’s opener “Old Battery” isn't all that shy of 80’s R.E.M., and it sounds more Murmur
than they ever could. “Discussing Wallice Chambers” doesn’t walk that off – in fact it digs that hole deeper, idolising rockers of the past who were more wacky for their exterior than their music: surreal poetry is a factor maybe, and perhaps the spaced out layout of the record, but never are the conventions of music sacrificed to something weirder than pop. Both tracks are verse-chorus, verse-chorus shorts, and if you’re after a history lesson that is exactly how Pollard means to go on.
But Pollard hasn’t gone
anywhere just yet; in fact, Devil Between My Toes
fits confidently into the band’s canon not because it is a blueprint or the shape of Pollard to come, but because it is in itself a fully realised slice of jangle pop. The record isn’t an on-off deal, either - even the instrumentals go through the wash, such as “Crux” which has no words to it and in fact nothing to dominate it but riffs and chords, and yet the interplay is typically Guided by Voices – simplistic and settled into the one sound it asks of itself, as if to prove that even without the band’s snarling vocalist, the music remains wonderfully smug.
So ultimately you can’t tell that this is a debut album because of how nothing sounds unusual. “A Portrait Destroyed By Fire” should sound hour-long to the avid fans of the band simply because the band’s rule of thumb is to never complete a song which can be left to its best minutes – usually, one or two is appropriate. This song is five
minutes, man, but it captivates the attention span like any other track Pollard wrote and swiftly got distracted from. The build-up is huge and eerie thanks to some sublime guitar-work, but by the time the drums kick in, Pollard commands the song back to bliss, substituting the song’s angst and distortion for his own interpretation of the two - drunken wailing.
The album hits its peak at “Hey, Hey Spaceman”, which can coincidentally do me a favour by being a summary of the album – it shares qualities distinct of anything seminal in the band’s discography (Bee Thousand
, Alien Lanes
, and the rest) and essentially anything up until their final release: an off-the-wall pop tune with hollow lyricism that exists solely to showcase Pollard’s charisma and undermine the talent the band probably didn’t have in musical diversity. It’s Guided By Voices because it’s idiosyncratic, but more simply because it’s rockin. To quote ‘Uncle’ Bob Pollard, “Rock and roll will never die”
. Then again, I wouldn’t trust anyone who uses the word uncle without your say-so.