Suitcase Three: Impressions and Such
by Rob Codey
I've got this theory. What makes Bob Pollard special is not his power to create a melody. This is something everyone does. Don't you ever find yourself humming a tune that is pleasing to you, but nothing you've ever heard? Probably, if you think about it. What makes Bob special is that he's got it together enough to record his melodies, and does so obsessively. Thus, Suitcase. (And that little number at the end of each review is the classic American Bandstand 'It's got a great beat and you can dance to it I give it an 89' Standardized Pop Song Rating Index). Here we go …
1. 'Long Way to Run', Fake Organisms: Jangle pop. I think this is the sort of song they're talking about when referring to GbV's similarity to early REM. Can't say, having never heard much REM and never really wanting to hear any. Great chorus. Give it 78.
2. 'Mr Media', Tom Devil: Another example of Bob having a pretty good melody, but not much of a lyric. And what's with the fade out? You don't fade out a pop song. Maybe this one shoulda stayed in the box. 45, maybe.
3. 'Settlement Down', Urinary Track Stars: The Mission of Burma influence rears its head. This one would have been perfect for the post-GbVerde power trio with throat lineup. Doug Gillard's angular riffs, Jim McPherson pounding the hell out of the drums. Doesn't need that second guitar to fill out the sound like most of Bob's songs. Maybe someday (especially since Nate doesn't play a whole lot of guitar anyway). 85, for what could have been.
4. 'Mr Japan', Red Hot Helicopter: Damn, this one just Bops don't it? Makes you wanna bob yr head and snap your fingers. But cool, Bob holds back and rides that groove. 'Does it feel alright?' Oh, yeah. Big strong 90.
5. 'A Kind of Love' Doctor Formula: I can see why Daytonites didn't like GbV in their early years. The material is there, but the execution isn't. The performance is leaden, too stuck on the beat. Sure it loosens up toward the end, but by then it's too late. 64, has an okay beat and you can't dance to it.
6. 'Meddle', Ben Zing: Pound for pound, the Ben Zing songs are the best on all four discs. This one is pure Lennon, circa 1965. Could easily have been a lost demo from Rubber Soul. It has that Lennon bitterness that no one else has ever been able to capture. 91.
7. 'Big Trouble' Hazzard Hotrods: One of the things I've always liked about GbV is that there has been no Boogie in their music. No Chooglin'. 'Big Trouble' blows that all to hell. Fortunately, it seems to be nothing more than a one-off jam (in a video store no less. What must that have looked like from the street?). That said, the track is still moderately amusing for the way it plays with the clichés of boogie music ("Bring it way down"), without any of the players being very adept at the form. My favorite part comes about five and a half minutes into the song, when Bob seems to be channeling the spirit of Lux Interior. If he'd only had the mike further in his mouth. . . 68.
8. 'A Good Circuitry Soldier', Eric Pretty: "I don't know what will happen with this, but . . ." To think that he let this molder in his basement unused for nine years. The change when he sings 'If you know it's true' in the chorus. It's the way he bends a melody in a completely obvious way, but that no one else could. 94.
9. 'Devil Doll', Antler: Stupid, stupid, stupid. Give it a 12. What's next?
10. 'Pantherz' Indian Alarm Clock: My all time favorite Pollard song, here in its demo form. He doesn't write very many songs that tell a story. It's not a simple task to accomplish, but he pulls it off by not saying too much. A guy and girl are dating, having fun and getting high, but she wants something more from the relationship. Apparently he doesn't, because when he knocks her up, he hits the road. Then Bob carefully omits part of the story, but nothing we can't fill imagine: Seemingly, there is another guy that is serious about Debbie to whom she turns after the narrator spurns her in her time of need. Miss X, for whatever reason, returns to the father of her child (does she have it?), but the rebound won't leave her alone, and the protagonist is pissed off and ready to use violence. Story jumps forward in time: The teller has left Debbie (Again. C'mon, he dumped you after you told him you were pregnant. Did you think he'd stay around and be responsible?) and is telling her the truth: that when the day comes when he gets in touch with her again (and he will, they obviously have a relationship that can never truly be over), she'll just say he's dead (maybe she did have the child. 'Where is your father? He's dead' Much better that lie than the truth that he's an asshole). He rationalizes his assholedness (is that a word?) here, blaming it on the folly of youth. Then we get to the best part, the best line that Robert Pollard has ever written: "Strong words and big black birds on the telephone wire." He says so much with a rhyme. Arguments over the phone, so ugly that they draw ominous beasts with their energy (Dreadful Crows, perhaps?). A universal tale. Give it a 97 (Woulda rated a hundred but I like the Jellyfish Reflector version better. Especially, if I remember correctly [my turntable is unavailable to me at this time], the transposition of the 'Strong words' portion with the last chorus. With him saying "One of these days when I write", he gives the impression that Debbie has changed her number several times because of him being irrational and annoying on the phone, so he has no recourse but to send her letters). Damn, I love this song. Play it again.
11. 'Cocaine Jane', Flaming Ray: The melody certainly distracts from the fact that the song seems to be a kiss-off to a drug addict. A throwaway. Give it a 68.
12. 'Exploding Anthills', Grabbit: Nonsense lyrics, from what I can decipher, and annoying tremelo on the vocals. But the guitar is great. Yeah, it's just a monotonous eighth note rhythm, but at the line 'Bizarre Earthquakes', he lets the chord sustain for half a beat and it kills me. 85.
13. 'Perch Warble', 8th Dwarf: Perfect example of one of Bob's production tricks I just adore: the harmonies on the second chorus. A lesser ear would have recoded them on the first chorus as well, completely removing any impact they might have had. (See also 'Mesh Gear Fox', the double-tracked vocals on the lines "And if you do/ I'll come back and marry you" Turns what is just a pretty fucking great song into another masterpiece). 88.
14. 'Medley: This View/ True Sensation/ On the Wall', Coward of the Hour; 'What Are We Coming Up to?', Oil Can Harry: They call this a medley, but I'd like to think of it as the product of Bob's prolific nature. He's sitting there recording 'This View', loses his train of thought for a second and comes up with 'True Sensation'. Seeing it had no potential, he immediately comes up with 'On the Wall'. Of the three, the last was the only one with any potential, so it gets redone as 'What Are We Coming To?' Myself, I can take or leave all of them. 65.
15. 'Scissor and the Clay Ox (In)', Too Proud to Practice: Doo Wop? Where the hell did this come from? Seriously, I can see a handful of kids on a streetcorner in the 1950's going over this song again and again, dreaming of making the big time, just like Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. Except for the lyric: "You got your clay ox in." For the life of me, I have no idea what this could possibly mean. 92.
16. 'Cody's Antler', Zeppelin Commander: Faux distorto-surf spaghetti western soundtrack music. Nifty. 86.
17. 'Once in a While', God's Brother: More restrained harmonies, another heartbreaking melody, and a lovely, if bittersweet, lyric. And he almost ruins it with a crappy ass chorus pedal. Cost him fifteen points, bringing the score down to an 80.
18. 'Buzzards and Dreadful Crows', Antler: I guess I just don't like Antler, because this sucks. I wouldn't even call it a diamond in the rough. More like a lump of coal. Fortunately Bob had the good sense to keep applying pressure. For obsessive 'back to Saturn X Radio Report' collectors only. 36.
19. 'Carnival at the Morning Star School', Kink Zego: Goes back to what I was saying about good pop songs being an expression of a collective experience (Wait, I didn't say that. Meant to). I hear this and immediately recall the carnivals at my own elementary school. Would spend the whole day goofing with friends and playing games. You know what I mean, you've been there too. 94.
20. 'Cruise', Royal Japanese Daycare: I love it when Bob does Prog-rock. This, "Subtle Gear Shifting," "(I'll Name You) The Flame That Cries." Great moments all. I would really like to hear this one re-recorded in proper facilities. 91.
21. 'Gayle', Stingy Queens: Lousy Queens is more like it. Don't like 'Deathtrot and Warlock Riding a Rooster' and I don't like this. 16.
22. 'Gift', Homosexual Flypaper: GbV does the Butthole Surfers. I hear Swell Maps in there too. Notable only for the great line "Hey, gimme a beer", and the fact that it is the source material for the intro to 'Jabberstroker'. 35.
23. 'The Flying Party', Fast Forward Life: Art is supposed to communicate emotions, and this does. Simple, pure: a single repeated lyric, some guitar, and atmospheres. Probably Bob's most succinct tune ever. Sadness, with strata of Hope and Relief. 92.
24. 'Trashed Aircraft', Bus of Trojan Hope: Finish up with a rocker, always a good plan. Be nice if they'd add this one to the setlist. I think it's perfect for where they are now. 86.
Well, that's it. Rough, and unpolished, but so is Suitcase. Probably feel differently about everything I've written here next week, but for now...