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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.

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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