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Not In My Airforce (Working Version) (1996)

16 Jan

This earlier draft of Bob’s first solo album is mostly comprised of studio-recorded tracks, while the released version drops some of these and sprinkles the album with a handful of boombox and four-track recordings. Some of the songs cut from this early sequence ended up on Mag Earwhig. There’s an image of the lyric sheet for this version, complete with alternate titles, in the Suitcase booklet.

Not In My Airforce (Working Version)
1. I’ve Owned You For Centuries
2. The Finest Joke Is Upon Us
3. Get Under It
4. Gods Of Richard
5. Accountant’s Wife (Maggie Turns to Flies)
6. Girl Named Captain
7. Chance To Buy An Island
8. Flat Beauty
9. Finks
10. Learning To Hunt
11. On The Ashes (Release the Sunbird)
12. The Colossus Crawls West
13. God Bless The Monument Club (Psychic Pilot Clocks Out)
14. King Of Arthur Avenue
15. Applehead (The Ash Gray Proclamation)

I enjoy this sequence quite a bit, more than I thought I would. As a big fan of the official version, I thought I’d miss lo-fi songs like “Quicksilver” and “Parakeet Troopers” breaking up the big studio tracks.  However, these songs flow together remarkably well on their own, and the album as a whole lacks the darker, moodier tone of the proper album. Although I don’t think there’s a huge distinction between the two, this working version feels more like a Guided by Voices album to me than a solo album.

After the quick opening blast of “I’ve Owned You for Centuries,” the stately “The Final Joke is Upon Us” makes a brilliant second track. It sounds great with such a prominent spot on an album, in contrast to its “deep cut” status on Mag Earwhig. Much like “Finest Joke,” the other two future Mag Earwhig tracks — “Learning to Hunt” and “The Colossus Crawls West” — fit perfectly with the Airforce tunes.

Album-highlight “Get Under It” rounds out this opening trio nicely. Next, “Gods of Richard” is the most obscure song on this sequence, having been unheard/unreleased until Suitcase 2 came out in 2005. It’s not a long-lost classic, however: it’s a fairly unremarkable guitar instrumental that bears a slight resemblance to the opening chords of “Psychic Pilot Clocks Out.” In the context of the album it works well.

The only other song that never found a home on either Not in My Airforce or Mag Earwhig is the outstanding “Finks.” Until it was reissued on the Hardcore UFOs box, it was only ever released as a bonus track on a Japanese issue of Under the Bushes Under the Stars. It would have surely become a fan favorite on any album, as it’s a catchy-as-hell blast that actually briefly entered the band’s live set in 2003. I enjoy how the unlikely vocal melody skips across the simple riff, demonstrating Pollard’s knack for not being boring or obvious. Too bad it never made it to Mag Earwhig with the other Airforce orphans, but it is definitely a nice treat for anyone who tracks it down.

As on the final version, “Psychic Pilot” (here titled “God Bless the Monument Club”) is the late-album “hit,” and “Applehead” (AKA “The Ash Gray Proclamation”) makes a great closing track. “Applehead” is the only lo-fi recording on the NiMA Working Version, and is a holdover from some early Under the Bushes drafts, where it was also used as the closer.

With its impeccable flow and song selection, it’s well worth giving the working version a listen! Here’s what you need:

Not in My Airforce
Mag Earwhig!
Suitcase 2 (“Gods of Richard”)
Hardcore UFOs (“Finks”)

Incidentally, here are the tracks from the final album that don’t appear on the early draft:

Quicksilver
John Strange School (this is the only studio-recorded track that is NOT on the working version)
Parakeet Troopers (a Bee Thousand outtake formerly known as “Crayola”)
One Clear Minute
Roofer’s Union Fight Song
Prom is Coming
Party
Did it Play?
Double Standards Inc.
Punk Rock Gods
Meet My Team
Good Luck Sailor

It’s also interesting to note that the final six tracks on Not in My Airforce (starting with “Party”) don’t appear on early Matador promo copies. In fact, they were intended to be their own little EP, and were tacked onto the album at the last minute. That means “Prom is Coming” was the original closer, and “Psychic Pilot” was the penultimate track. The presence of those final six acoustic snippets somewhat diminishes the impact of that 1-2 punch.

Do the Collapse/Panic on Landlord Street (1997)

4 Jan

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:
Hardcore UFOs