Shit Canned.

The Power of Suck pt. 1 – The demos

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The most legendary unreleased Guided by Voices album is surely The Power of Suck, a proposed double-album that would have been the follow-up to Alien Lanes. Its story is only the first chapter in the convoluted history leading up to the eventual release of Under the Bushes Under the Stars.

There’s been some speculation that this album may one day get a proper release. Made during the peak of the classic line-up days, fans would certainly love to have it set in stone and enter the official canon. However, it’s unclear what form an official version would take. Many of the songs intended for the earliest version never made it beyond the demo stage, yet most of the album’s key tracks DID see the light of day on high-profile releases such as Under the Bushes, Under the Stars and Sunfish Holy Breakfast. Ultimately, there is no one clear way to resurrect the album with the known recordings that exist, and there’s no ONE track sequence that covers everything. I can’t even cover it all in one post! (For proof, here’s a handy chart put together by Jeff from GBVDB.com.)

Now that the classic line-up is back together and making records, there is hope that some crucial steps required to complete the album — i.e. finalizing the tracklist, finding lost recordings, or even making new recordings —  can be made.  As excited as I am about new GBV material, I would certainly welcome a re-visitation of The Power of Suck era, due to the wealth of high-quality songs that never got wide exposure. However, due to some overlap between The Power of Suck and Under the Bushes, I hope care is taken not to overwrite or undermine the latter album’s place in GBV history. Besides, it will be far more interesting to dredge up the past if most of it is fresh and new. Fortunately, there exists enough non-album material that, if it is allowed to diverge from known working sequences, a satisfying, complete, finished Power of Suck (or reasonable facsimile) can be created. I can’t wait to see what Pollard comes up with (if anything) but until then I’ve been tinkering with my own sequence — more on that later.

The earliest known incarnation of PoS is a partial reconstruction of Pollard’s  first demo tape, published in James Greer’s book Hunting Accidents. According to Greer, it contained 10-12 songs, including:
1. Pantherz
2. Debbie X (I Am Decided)
3. Drag Days
4. Trader Vic
5. Bughouse
6. He’s The Uncle
7. Sheetkickers
8. Pink Drink
9. Why Did You Land?
10. Don’t Stop Now
Soon thereafter, the number of songs doubled and a second demo was made, with all of the above songs still included (come to think of it, maybe the new songs were just appended to the 10-12 earlier demos). According to owner Rich T., this second Power of Suck demo tape (made late 94 or early 95) consists of guitar and vocal versions of each track.
1. Pantherz
2. In Previous Trials (AKA Stingy Queens)
3. Trader Vic
4. Bug House
5. Drag Days
6. Sheetkickers
7. I Am Decided
8. Pink Drink
9. He’s The Uncle
10. Speak Like Men
11. Sweeping Bones
12. Don’t Stop Now
13. Why Did You Land?
14. Superwhore
15. Redmen And Their Wives
16. Color Of My Blade
17. Are You Faster?
18. My Feet’s Trustworthy Existence
19. Cocksoldiers And Their Postwar Stubble
20. The Official Ironmen Rally Song
21. Amazed
22. Pluto The Skate
The titles in bold are recordings from this tape that have either been officially released or are circulating as bootlegs. Although we have all these songs in one form or another, we don’t have all the Bob-and-guitar demo versions, some of which may be quite different from their released counterparts. For example, owner of this tape Rich Turiel has stated that the demo of “Why Did You Land?” contains a “killer middle part with a completely different melody.” And it has been confirmed that “Amazed” is a faster version of a song that appears on the Nightwalker album In Shop We Build Electric Chairs. Also, I speculate that those are new versions of “My Feet’s Trustworthy Existence” and “Pluto the Skate,” since the Suitcase versions are allegedly from 1992.Having the complete set of these demos would be great, and provide some missing pieces of the puzzle, but it wouldn’t really be The Power of Suck. These are just the demos — a pool of songs to choose from, but not an album sequence. It’s the unreleased, unrealized songs make this list most interesting.

Stingy Queens
Trader Vic
Speak Like Men
Sweeping Bones
My Feet’s Trustworthy Existence
Amazed

None of these six survived to the next known sequence, which still predates any actual full-band recording sessions. “Speak Like Men” does appear on Suitcase 3 in full-band form, but it seems to be an earlier, pre-PoS recording (no date is given). No band recordings of any other of these tracks have surfaced.

“Stingy Queens” is a standout of these “lost” tracks. A dark, yearning ballad, it’s quite different in style and tone from anything on Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes. It’s too bad it never got the full-band treatment, because with some drums to help emphasize the shifting dynamics and some crunchy guitar to give the coda some added heft, it would be even better. It’s quite good in demo form, however, even when Pollard forgets the lyrics at one point.

“Sweeping Bones” is another epic song, though maybe a bit more rockin’ that “Stingy Queens.” This tune would have really benefited from a full-band arrangement because the main riff strongly recalls “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory.” I imagine with some bass, drums, and a second guitar in there it wouldn’t recall “Goldheart” quite so much.

“Trader Vic” is a joy, a pure Alien Lanes-style pop song with an incredibly catchy verse and a soaring chorus. The lyrics even reference a certain Ironman rally song: “We are the ironmen and we now command you to sing.”

“Speak Like Men” is another great pop song. It’s a casual, breezy rocker with a great chorus hook, and would have sounded right at home on Under the Bushes.

“My Feet’s Trustworthy Existence” and “Amazed” are more of a mystery, since we haven’t heard the PoS demos. The former is a mid-tempo acoustic number on Suitcase and it doesn’t seem to fit stylistically with the other PoS songs. I’d guess the demo version is reworked in some way to make it more in step with the others. It may be a new composition that incorporates elements of the older song. “Amazed” is another older song (the title of the Nightwalker album indicates it’s from 1993 or earlier). The Nightwalker version is also a mid-tempo acoustic song, but unlike the melodic folk of  “Feet’s,” “Amazed” is more experimental. The arrangement is heavy on droning keyboard and drum machine, and vocally it’s kind of a ramble, lacking a chorus but not without some appealing melodic elements. According to a post on the Disarm the Settlers message board, the demo version lacks the keyboard/drum machine and is guitar-based like the other demos. It’s the same basic song, but faster, and there’s a riff not present in the Nightwalker recording. It will be interesting to finally hear these if they turn up someday.

Ultimately, there’s too much Suck to be contained in one post. More will follow. Thanks to GBVDB’s Jeff for the help and resource material.

Track down the demos:

Suitcase 1
Pantherz, Bug House, Pink Drink (plus the older “My Feet’s Trustworthy Existence” and “Pluto the Skate”)

Suitcase 2
Stingy Queens, Are You Faster? (plus full-band “I Am Decided”)

Suitcase 3
Trader Vic (plus full-band “Speak Like Men”)

The Official Ironman Rally song — Free at robertpollard.net

Carefree Kitchens bootleg
I Am Decided, Speak Like Men, Sweeping Bones, Stingy Queens (all those plus Sheetkickers are also on 30 Songs)

Nightwalker – In Shop We Build Electric Chairs
(For non-PoS version of “Amazed”). Available on CD for $5 at The Factory and totally worth it!

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