Suitcase Two Examined
by Brandon Bentley
So first of all, if you're a hardcore fan, you need this. How can you call yourself a BIG fan of a band that has released 100 songs you've never heard? Hardcore fans shouldn't need record reviews. I've already bought Suitcase, so now I need to determine if I should put it in my frequently-played pile or my archive-and-forget pile. In other words, is this really worth listening to?
1. "Supermarket the Moon" (by Clinton Killingsworth): The disc opens with a tune previously available on rarities tapes - bootlegs circulated by GbV fans who couldn't just be happy with the umpteen thousand songs Bob Pollard actually RELEASED. I am one of those fans, so I've had this song for about a year. I've always liked it - a slow song typical of Bob's acoustic guitar / piano stuff. Can't say I know what it means - and I'm still a little put off by the last two lines ("feed you with a spoon / so you won't leave too soon") - I would've left them off. Anyway, this is a good start - a song that wouldn't feel out of place on Bee Thousand (for which it was originally recorded).
2. "Hold on to Yesterday" (by Stingy Queens): And wow, the hits keep coming! I'm of the opinion that GbV's albums before Propeller are NOT essential (but of course, they sure are nice to have) so I figured that any song recorded before 1991 that wasn't good enough to make the albums can't be all that good. This one kicks my ass though - recorded way back in 1983 with Mitch Mitchell singing - a simple, groovy little song that makes me want to sing along.
3. "Ha Ha Man" (by The Judy Plus Nine): So far this is my favorite song on the disc - it's a full rock version of a silly song from the Tonics & Twisted Chasers fan club album - and it was recorded in 1993! With all the songs recorded around then, Bee Thousand could've been a triple album. I've listened to the original "Ha Ha Man" a thousand times, and this is the way I've always wished it could sound. If I could write and record songs that sounded like this, I'd release albums all the time, too. The first two songs obviously weren't recorded in fancy studios, but they sound good enough - no noticeable tape hiss, and instruments and vocals sound nice and clear. This one is even better - I can't imagine why it wasn't on an EP in '93 or '94.
4. "Our Value of Luxury" (by Nicotine Cranes): Most songs on this disc were recorded in 1992 or 93. This is one of them - a nice rolling rock song that starts quietly and builds into a shout-along anthem. "Our value of luxury allows us to believe we are free!" That sounds like it should mean something, like it's something worth shouting - but I'm too tired to try figuring it out.
5. "Bug House (2 Versions)" (by Arthur Psycho and the Trippy Warts): If I knew the lyrics to the previously released version of "Bughouse" (a bonus song on the Jellyfish Reflector live album), I'd tell you whether they've changed. I think I would've remembered if he said something about Sweet Tarts in the released version. I don't like listening to two versions of the same song in a row, but I guess if they'd spread them out more, they would have had to delete another song or mess up the nice round number of tracks. Anyway, this wasn't a good enough song that I need lots of versions of it, so I think I'll just pick one and stick with it. The second version sounds the way I remembered the Jellyfish version sounding - a kinda muddy full rock song - and the first version is very different: sharp guitar, superloud vocals and no drums. If I had to pick one of the three Bughouses, I'd choose the second Suitcase "Bughouse" and throw the rest in the pile of rarely-played songs. Unfortunately, when listening to this CD, I'll probably listen to the first "Bughouse," then skip the rest of the track. Years of listening to Bob Pollard songs have trained me to expect the next song about two minutes after the one before it begins, so I've got an itchy fast-forward-button finger. Maybe when DVD-audio becomes popular, they can use those seamless branching techniques I've been hearing about to let me choose which "Bughouse" I want to hear each time I play the album.
6. "Rainbow Billy" (by Groovy Lucifer): This is a calm acoustic song where Bob sounds like he's auditioning for The Muppets. The song itself isn't that impressive, but the falsetto vocals certainly make it interesting enough to keep.
7. "Shrine to the Dynamic Years (Athens Time-Change Riots)" (by Approval of Mice): Just when we were losing momentum (repeated "Bughouse" then slow-paced "Billy") they threw in a recent rocker - a demo for Do The Collapse. I know there's something other than the chorus in this song, but as soon as the chorus kicks in, I forget the rest of the song completely. I don't know what the words are about, but it's fun to sing along. This doesn't have the Ric Ocasek-produced feel of Do The Collapse, and it's probably weaker than the songs that made the cut, but it's still a good rockin' tune.
8. "On Short Wave" (by Eric Pretty): If "Ha Ha Man" wasn't already cemented as my Favorite Song On The Disc, I'd have to strongly consider this one for the title. This is the stuff that makes me love Guided by Voices. It's just a short, sad song ending with my favorite line of the disc ("only real memory I'll ever have").
9. "I Can See It In Your Eyes" (by Artrock Unicorns): It's been pointed out to me that this sounds like early Who songs. I'm no authority on early Who songs, but it's a nice example of an early GbV song. This belongs on an album. The tape quality must've been degrading, because the sound is jittery.
10. "Tobacco's Last Stand" (by Kuda Labranch): I know I have this song, but I can't remember where - no doubt one of those dirty rarities tapes. Even if this didn't have the line "I want to taste it with my own two eyes" it would be a worthwhile song, another Pollard solo acoustic number. It has a hissy whiny buzzy sound in the background that hurts my head. I had always hoped that sound was just on my tape, but I guess it was on Bob's tape too.
11. "Shifting Swift is a Lift" (by Elvis Caligula): I don't know what this is - sounds like Bob was making it up as he went along. Just another GBV song, this one. Pay it no mind - move along, nothing to see here.
12. "Sing It Out" (by Tabatha's Flashpot): Catchy little song that sounds almost familiar - like I heard it once on an album that I lost immediately afterwards. I'm sure there's a GBV song out there with the exact same sound but a different tune, but I'll never remember what it is.
13. "Messenger" (by Ricked Wicky): I don't know much about music of the 70's, but I know this song belongs there. It was actually recorded in 1985 - close enough. It kicks ass.
14. "The Fool Ticket" (by K.C. Turner): I always forget this song immediately after hearing it - I guess that's a bad sign. I'm listening to it now, and yeah, there's not much here.
15. "Mallard Smoke" (by Brown Smoothies): Wow - here's another song that would be worth having even if it wasn't good - cuz it's a live performance from 1990. But it is good. It might be the lousiest recording on the CD after "Mr McCaslin..." and for some reason I keep imagining Nirvana playing this. I can even understand most of the lyrics - it's a simple but very catchy tune.
16. "Mr. McCaslin Will Sell No More Flowers" (by Edison Shell): This is just wonderful - a 1979 Pollard song that sounds like it was recorded on my answering machine. It's a nice little jingle - seems like a throwaway until Bob multitracks his vocals at the end and turns it into a worthwhile pop song.
17. "Shit Midas" (by Ceramic Cock Einstein): It might've been safe to leave this one unreleased - but it's been on the rarities tapes, so all the tape-trading internet folk would still be itching to get it on CD - but they could use their CD burners for that, and this slot of Suitcase could've been filled with another song from the same show as "Mallard Smoke"... or that third version of "Bughouse." But I guess this is a fine song - another acoustic ditty with curious lyrics.
18. "Blue Gil" (by Moonchief): This one has some shaky stereo-sound problems that I would think could've been easily fixed - but for the most part, it sounds good. It's another one of my favorite songs here - combining the slow acousticky stuff with the loud-drumming rocky stuff and throwing in a singable chorus. When it comes down to it, a singable chorus is the most important thing. Some part of the song needs to stick in my head, so when I'm in the kitchen making spaghetti where there's no CD player, I'll have something to hum to myself. I say one Blue Gil is worth a thousand Shit Midases. Moonchief is a kickass band name, too.
19. "Invest in British Steel" (by Ricked Wicky): This is sort of an instrumental version of a previously released song (something from The Grand Hour maybe) with unnecessarily added noise. Then after about two minutes I thought it was going to turn into something more... but it doesn't. I'll skip this track next time.
20. "Spinning Around" (by Pearly Gates Smoke Machine): This song fails to bring me out of my "Invest In British Steel"-induced funk. It's slow and woozy. It puts me to sleep.
21. "Let's Go! (To War)" (by 1st Joint): This song wakes me up and gets me angry, cuz it's loud and chaotic and not really worth waking up for. This doesn't have much in common with "Now To War" on Mag Earwhig. Too bad. It has cool drumming though.
22. "Grasshopper Rap" (by Antler): A sludgy, angry pop song from 1989 that should've been on Vampire On Titus.
23. "I'm Cold" (by King of Cincinnati): Simple idea (Bob is cold) turned into a perfectly pleasant song. He's got that weird echo thing on the vocals that he used so often in the 80's.
24. "Damn Good Mr. Jam" (by Ghost Fart): An unnecessary sped-up version of a song from an old EP. I guess that's unfair - it is a good song... nice words, nice tune, and dig that sweet "anything for free" ending. But truly, the EP version was better.
25. "In Walked The Moon" (by Ben Zing): Oooh, the CD is bookended by songs about the moon. It's a 1988 song and has that 80's Pollard echo thing, and that 70's rock star harmony thing and that wavery guitar pedal thing - but they don't quite come together into a memorable song. Or maybe it's a perfectly good song, but I expended all my love on the last two and I have no more love left to give "In Walked The Moon." I haven't had the time to explore the other three discs of Suitcase in this much detail, but if the rest are half as good as this one, it's going to be a great box set.