This early version of Mag Earwhig, confusingly titled Do the Collapse, originally had 18 tracks and opened with “The Singing Razorblade.” Later, the newly-written “Sad If I Lost It” was appended to the beginning and the album was re-titled Panic on Landlord Street.
The image on the right (with the tracklist in Bob’s handwriting, including some alternate titles) comes from this interesting (if nearly illegible) blog post I dug up. The author owns a tape of this sequence, given to him by Bob.
Mag Earwhig has a nearly half and half mix of the new band (the “GBVerde” line-up) and some hold-overs from the classic line-up days. This early draft is a little heavier on the GBVerde.
Do The Collapse/Panic on Landlord Street
(1). Sad If I Lost It
2. The Singing Razorblade
3. Not Behind The Fighter Jet
4. Do They Teach You The Chase?
5. I Am A Tree
6. Choking Tara
7. Cherub Blown Apart (AKA I’ll Name You The Flame That Cries, fades out after a minute)
8. Fairy Wings Are Green (AKA Mute Superstar )
9. The Old Grunt
10. Bulldog Skin
11. Now To War
12. Knock ‘Em Flyin’
13. Mag Earwhig!
14. Little Lines
15. Mannequin’s Complaint (Wax Dummy Meltdown)
16. Hollow Cheek
17. Portable Men’s Society
18. The Ascended Master’s Grogshop
19. Jane Of The Waking Universe
This alternate sequence compares rather well to the final product, Mag Earwhig. Pollard was on a hot songwriting streak during this time, so almost any combination of songs would yield something good. One really enjoyable aspect of this sequence are the opening and closing tracks. “The Singing Razorblade” has a really inviting intro, with chopped up vocal loops before launching into the ragged, dirty yet amiable guitar riff of the proper song. And it’s a “classic” line-up track (well, Tobin Sprout on drums, anyway… I think that counts as classic). The song ended up as a b-side, yet it does really well as a track number one. And “Sad If I Lost It,” opening draft 2, is a great slow builder and a good choice for this slot as well (I’d say it basically opens Mag Earwhig as it is, with “Can’t Hear the Revolution” acting more as an intro track).
On the other end, “Jane of the Waking Universe” (a legitimate classic line-up track, with Sprout’s angelic harmonies and bass line) closes the album on a high note. The fading into infinity chorus of “Jane” makes it a superb final song. Mag‘s official closer, “Bomb the Bee-Hive,” is a solid but unremarkable rocker that I’d characterize as one of Pollard’s trademark “anti-closers;” that is, a brief, rocking song that casually shrugs off the weight of the preceding album (see also “An Unmarketed Product,” “Of Mites and Men,” and maybe “Father Sgt. Christmas Card”). On Mag Earwhig, “Jane” is used to kick off an extended denouement. It’ll always be a standout song, but giving it the important final slot would have been a real boon to its legacy. Additionally, “The Ascended Master’s Grogshop,” a Sprout co-write that recalls “You’re Not an Airplane,” is a nice set-up for the big “Jane” payoff.
Some other things to really like about this sequence: the up-front placement of “Not Behind the Fighter Jet” and the longer gap separating “I Am a Tree” and “Bulldog Skin.” Those two big hits are always the first two that wear out their welcome, and they sit uncomfortably close on Mag.
A handful of eventual b-sides also make the cut here, like the twisted waltz of “Mannequin’s Complaint” which holds down the second half, and the somewhat Syd Barrett-like “Do They Teach You the Chase?” The latter song, snippet-like in quality, introduces the Big Rock of “I Am a Tree” very well.
As fine a follow-up to Under the Bushes as Do the Collapse or Panic on Landlord Street would have been, it lacks a handful of excellent, distinct songs that ended up on the finalized version. Here are the Mag Earwhig songs that don’t make the cut on the early draft:
Learning to Hunt
The Finest Joke is Upon Us
The Colossus Crawls West
I Am Produced
Can’t Hear the Revolution
Are You Faster?
Bomb In The Bee-Hive
The first three of this lot are all, interestingly enough, outtakes from Pollard’s solo LP Not in My Airforce (look forward to the inevitable post about that later on!). He must have held on to them for a special occasion, and I gotta say they do just fine on a GBV album. “Learning to Hunt,” especially, is an all-time great, but “Finest Joke” is no slouch either.
The next three of that batch are four-track songs on which Tobin Sprout and Jimmy Pollard make appearances. Just like the Not in My Airforce outtakes, these tunes provide a sweet and essential contrast to the big rock songs recorded by the new band. Although they are short and perhaps could considered slight, they showcase the off-hand charm off Pollard at his weird/experimental best. “I Am Produced,” co-written by Sprout, is definitely a signature tune from this album. “Can’t Hear the Revolution” is an inspired intro tune (though I don’t know if it’d work anywhere else) and believe it or not, “Are You Faster?” is one of the songs that sold me on GBV in the first place. It’s a brilliant and brief psychedelic journey that ends abruptly right when you think it’s going to take off. Wonderful.
Build Your Own!
Mag Earwhig! (is this out of print? Couldn’t find it on Matador’s site. These are all GBV Digital links, by the way)
Bulldog Skin single
I Am a Tree single
or get all the b-sides here on this incredible box set: