On Guided by Voices’ mid-period albums, guitarist Tobin Sprout played the role of a musical sharpshooter. And while GBV front man Robert Pollard has always been content to release every millimeter of tape that he’s recorded on (leaving it to the listener to separate the prime cuts from the fat), Sprout contributed songs only sporadically — and hit a bull’s eye nearly every time. Combining a record store geek’s love of Nuggets-era rock with a uniquely dreamlike sincerity, Sprout’s songs — both in GBV and on his subsequent solo albums — are gently skewed, lo-fi treasures that manage to wring genuine emotions from twee lyrics such as “Angels hang their socks on the moon.”
That said, the existence of Sprout’s 20-song Demos & Outtakes CD is a bit of a head-scratcher. There isn’t much here for diehard fans to chew on: A whopping 16 of these songs have seen prior release somewhere, and most of these demos aren’t dramatically different from their finished form. Sure, the rubbery wah-wah guitar on “Little Bit of Dread” is cute, and it’s interesting to hear how peppy “Smokey Joe” is without the spooky keyboard, but most of these songs just sound like sloppier takes of the album versions.
Newcomers might be put off by the sub-basement production values. Granted, tape hiss has always been as much a part of Tobin Sprout albums as angular guitars and fake British accents, but some of these songs sound like streaming audio taped on a microcassette recorder located inside a washing machine. If you aren’t already familiar with Sprout’s body of work, you are hereby ordered to skip this extraneous release and pick up his note-perfect album, Carnival Boy. If you do have a working knowledge of his oeuvre, you can ignore the second part of that directive.
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