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Mustard Man & Mother Monkey (Power of Suck pt. 2)

18 Jun

The next chapter in the Power of Suck saga is this big ol’ double-LP.

According to James Greer, this is an early version of Power of Suck, “after it was already not Power of Suck but before we’d started recording – this was during the rehearsal stage in Kim [Deal]’s basement.”

This would place it at around February 1995. The great thing about this sequence is that we have a complete handwritten tracklist with lyrics!

Seen at the top of the lyrics sheet is a list of possible titles. In my opinion, the Mustard Man one suits this sequence best, because I like it the best.

Mustard Man & Mother Monkey
Titles in bold are songs carried over from the original demos. Titles in red are newly added Pollard-Sprout co-writes.

A
1. Pantherz
2. Imperial Racehorsing
3. Color Of My Blade
(snippet) No title/Is She Ever?
4. Redmen And Their Wives 
5. Sheetkickers
6. Beekeeper Seeks Ruth

B
1. Drag Days
2. Cocksoldiers And Their Postwar Stubble
3. The Winter Cows
4. Bug House
5. Key Losers
6. Big Boring Wedding

C
1. Pink Drink
2. Pluto The Skate
3. Are You Faster?
4. He’s The Uncle
(snippet) No title/Drag Me Down
5. Universal Nurse Finger
6. I Am Decided

D
1. Not Good For The Mechanism
2. The Official Ironmen Rally Song
3. Why Did You Land?
4. I Saw The Jackrabbit (formerly “Superwhore”)
5. Don’t Stop Now

Most of the new songs added here are Sprout/Pollard compositions that later ended up on either Sunfish Holy Breakfast or Tonics and Twisted Chasers. It seems reasonable to surmise that other Sunfish and Tonics recordings were made during four-track sessions with Sprout around this time. Interestingly, there are no Pollard/Sprout co-writes on Under the Bushes, Under the Stars. At this point, there are no songs on the album solely credited to Sprout.

Looking at this sequence, the first striking thing is track two. “Imperial Racehorsing” is the name of a song on Let’s Go Eat the Factory, GBV’s first album of 2012. However, the Power of Suck song by that name appears to bear no relation to the newer song. In fact, this version is noted to be an instrumental on the lyrics sheet. It’s unknown what this song was, or if it was ever released under a different name. It has been confirmed by Greer that it is not “Do the Collapse” AKA “Girl from the Sun,” an instrumental written and recorded during the Albini sessions, which this tracklist predates.

The next unusual feature is the “Drag Me Down” snippet on side C. This is probably the future Tonics track “The Stir-Crazy Pornographer,” which prominently features the phrase “drag me down” in the lyrics. The earlier “Is She Ever?” snippet on side A is also a Tonics tune. I imagine these snippets would have been quite similar to the “At Odds With Dr. Genesis” snippet attached to “Ester’s Day” on Bee Thousand.

“Pluto the Skate” makes its final appearance on a potential GBV sequence before bizarrely showing up (in original demo form, even, although augmented by additional overdubs) in 2009 on Boston Spaceship’s Zero to 99In the meantime, its signature riff was recycled into “Catfood on the Earwig,” a song briefly in the running for Under the Bushes and later considered for Isolation Drills!

Looking at the lyrics sheet, one of the most interesting things is a previously unknown section in “Why Did You Land?” Some history: In 1993, “Why Did You Land?” was a slow, beautiful tune that was considered for Bee Thousand. After being passed over for that album, the song was reconfigured for The Power of Suck. The Suck version, also passed over for the album but eventually released as a b-side, is more of a rocker, and it has a chorus not present in the early version. This PoS lyrics sheet reveals that the chorus wasn’t the only new part added to the song. At this point in time there was also a bridge that does not appear in any released version:

Explain to me the big blue sea
Or the place where certain stars collapse
The singer’s song is always too long
Like everything we taught you
To all Tarzans of rock & industry Janes
The song has been written & yes perhaps
The lucky pimps shall have the best
& let imagination rock you
Why did you land?

Owner of the original PoS demo tape, RichT, has described it as a “killer middle part with a completely different melody.” He also stated that this demo version was for Suitcase 3, although sadly it did not appear on that release. As it stands, this is still an unheard piece of The Power of Suck puzzle.

The case of “Why Did You Land?” also illustrates how, like Bee Thousand, much of The Power of Suck was comprised of bits and pieces of older songs. Not only was the original “Why Did You Land?” a Bee Thousand leftover, but the “new” chorus (“look at the photograph / nothing is real” ) was taken from an even older song: “Perhaps We Were Swinging,” a folky tune recorded in the late 80s (found on Matador’s Hardcore UFOs boxset). “Don’t Stop Now” was also a Bee Thousand leftover (as was “Postal Blowfish” and Sprout’s “It’s Like Soul Man,” although those songs are not yet a part of this album).

Some more examples: “Are You Faster?” seems to take its verse melody from a bit at the end of the Suitcase 2 version of “Dusty Bushworms.” “I Am Decided” is based on an older song known as “Whiskey on Your Breath.” “Sheetkickers” is based an an old instrumental called “Lion w/ Thorn in Paw” (heard on Briefcase 2). “Pink Drink” is taken from a Propeller-era tune called “Song of Below,” the same song that spawned “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory.” “Pantherz” borrows from an 80s composition called “Turbo Boy.”

Of course, this technique is not at all unusual for Pollard, and many of his albums are peppered with instances of “recycling.” It just seems that we have more pieces than usual for this particular album. The songs from this era are rich with connections and discoveries to make.

Mustard Man & Mother Monkey is a great listen, one of my favorite shit-canned albums out there. The four-track recordings have the warm, welcoming sound of Bee Thousand, while the Albini tunes sound like a more muscular take on the Alien Lanes style. The songs only available in demo form (“Are You Faster?,” “Pink Drink”) have a unique and pleasing quality about them as well. Although a finalized version of the album would lack these unpolished demos, they don’t sound terribly out of place of my reconstructed version.

For my version, I stick to the released versions of tracks when available. The mysterious “Imperial Racehorsing” is the only glaring hole. The Albini versions of “Pantherz” and “Bughouse,” are somewhat harder to track down, being released only on the vinyl bootleg Jellyfish Reflector. Though, I think it’s the same version of “Bughouse” on Suitcase 1, but you might want to separate it from the demo version that precedes it on the same track. “Superwhore” was only ever officially released on Briefcase 2. You can download these three hard-to-find tracks here.

Whew! OK. In the next installment of the Power of Suck tale, most of these songs get cut, and a bunch of new songs are added. And it stops being The Power of Suck.

In the meantime, make your own Mustard Man:

Sunfish Holy Breakfast – Beekeeper Seeks Ruth, The Winter Cows, Cocksoldiers
Tonics & Twisted Chasers – Is She Ever?, The Key Losers, The Stir-Crazy Pornographer, Universal Nurse Finger
Suitcase 1 – Pink Drink, Pluto the Skate, Bughouse, Pantherz (demo version)
Suitcase 2 – I Am Decided, Are You Faster?,
Motor Away single – Color of My Blade
Tigerbomb – Not Good for the Mechanism
The Official Ironman Rally Song single – Why Did You Land?
He’s the Uncle available on Amazon MP3 or on Matador’s Hardcore UFOs box.
Under the Bushes, Under the Stars – Redmen and Their Wives, Sheetkickers, Drag Days, Big Boring Wedding, Don’t Stop Now, The Official Ironman Rally Song

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Elephant Jokes Round One (2009)

7 Jan

Elephant Jokes was a landmark album for Pollard (at least for me) because it marked the return to albums with 20+ songs, like in the good ol’ days. Amazingly, the first draft of Elephant Jokes was 10 songs stronger, clocking it at a whopping 32! Although the released version is a surprisingly lean 46 minute single LP, I’m guessing the 32-track version would probably have been considered a double, at 65 minutes.

Here’s what the first draft looked like. I took the liberty of splitting it up evenly into four sides of eight songs each, although that is just a guess on my part.

Elephant Jokes (Round One)

Side A
1. Night Ears
2. Things Have Changed (Down in Mexico City)
3. Tired of Knocking
4. Dropping the Bomb
5. Spectrum Factory
6. Candy Machine
7. Johnny Optimist
8. I Felt Revolved

Side B
9. Symbols and Heads
10. Tattered Lily
11. Parts of Your World
12. Perverted Eyelash
13. Stiff Me
14. I’ll Come (And When It Does It’s Mine)
15. Compound X
16. Pigeon Tripping

Side C
17. Jimmy
18. Epic Heads
19. Newly Selected Dirt Spots
20. Desiring
21. Accident Hero
22. Blind Rifles (Cochise)
23. The Annex
24. Out of the House

Side D
25. Hippsville (Where the Frisbees Fly Forever)
26. 100 Colors
27. Blown Out Man
28. Cosmic Yellow Children
29. When a Man Walks Away
30. (All You Need) To Know
31. Naked Believer (I Am)
32. Architectural Nightmare Man

Wow, what a monster. If not a double-album, this group of songs could easily have been formed into two records (similar to 2007’s Coast to Coast Carpet of Love and Standard Gargoyle Decisions, two albums that were originally considered for one 33-track double LP). Instead, Pollard cut 10 tracks and released the triumphant Elephant Jokes LP that we all know and love. All the outtakes ended up on Suitcase 3.

In any format, Elephant Jokes is a crazy album. The double version just seems like MORE crazy. Even the most sedate, traditional songs have a streak of unpredictability in them. Only a couple songs are mellow. Most careen wildly into memorable hooks as if by accident and then move on to find more. Some songs, like “Jimmy,” “Dropping the Bomb” and “Accident Hero” recall Alien Lanes-style nuggets remarkably well, while other tracks conjure pop songs out of noisy, angular riffs and bizarre imagery (“Hey, perverted eyelash / Come to cyclops”). At least one song, “The Annex,” is destined to become a Halloween classic on par with “The Monster Mash.” Then there’s the killer live-anthem that never was, “Johnny Optimist,” and the gently plodding, almost Airport 5-ish “(All You Need) To Know,” which definitely ranks in my top 10 Pollard solo songs ever.

Elephant Jokes Round One just feels just like what it is — an expanded version of the regular album. The new sequence does not yield many surprises or noticeable differences in tone. Unlike the Coast to Coast/Standard Gargoyle pair, or the more diverse From a Compound Eye, all this material is on exactly the same page — there are no duel aesthetics or split personalities to play off each other, really. It’s just… Elephant Jokes.  There’s an undeniable chemistry between these tracks, but there’s no tension, which is why I think I prefer the single LP version, with its impeccable flow and more manageable length. However, it pairs very nicely with this handy little companion EP (my sequence, although I think it’s basically the order in which they appear on Suitcase 3).

 Elephant Jokes Outtakes EP

  1. Tired of Knocking
  2. Dropping the Bomb
  3. The Annex
  4. Candy Machine
  5. I’ll Come (And When It Does It’s Mine)
  6. Cochise
  7. 100 Colors
  8. Night Ears
  9. Naked Believer (I Am)
  10. Out of the House

It’s the Pipe Dreams of Instant Prince Whippet to Elephant Jokes’ Universal Truths and Cycles. It’s the Hold on Hope EP to its Do the Collapse. Only difference is that it’s not an official release. Oh well. It’s fun hearing these songs together as a little Elephant Jokes appendix, and many of these songs are pretty great. The awkwardly titled “I’ll Come (And When It Does It’s Mine)” is a joyful jangle-pop track that reminds me of early, early GBV, when they were still in their R.E.M. worship phase. “100 Colors” is another cool melodic pop number (and a free mp3 courtesy of RobertPollard.net), and “Naked Believer (I Am)” is a stunning 40 seconds of mush-mouthed melodic serendipity that goes really well with the hard-rocking “Out of the House” as a closer.

Hey, I want this:
Elephant Jokes CD/LP | Digital
Suitcase 3