As with other Guided by Voices releases, I think the best way to tackle Motivational Jumpsuitis to make your own playlist out of its best songs. And for those who are too lazy to listen to a 20-song album over and over and figure out which songs are worth keeping, I’ve done that for you here:
1. ”Littlest League Possible” starts off sounding like Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing” and right as when I decide “Damn, I wanna hear ‘Kool Thing’ right about now” it jogs off in a different direction that makes me completely forget about “Kool Thing.” Robert Pollard’s been criticized about his lyrics before, which often feel like they’re there because he understands that songs with lyrics appeal to a larger audience than songs without, but “Littlest League Possible” has lyrics that are autobiographical (not at all about baseball) – “Gonna have a lot of fun” and “To be the biggest fish in the smallest pond / On the littlest island where I reside” are practically statements by which he and his band have lived their entire lives. Probably not the best choice for a single but a great opener.
2. “Until Next Time” houses one good line (“There goes Mario Andretti / She’s a real believer / Of getting there first every ti-ii-ime”) and provides a decent segue-way (seriously, “Littlest League Possible” practically bleeds into this song) to the next song.
3. “Writer’s Bloc (Psycho All the Time)” has a title that is especially troubling for such a prolific band houses has a lovely guitar chug. Unfortunately, it’s a minute-long song that’s been wrongfully fleshed out into a 2-minute song by an ugly bridge.
4. ”Planet Score” has the best guitar riff on the album.
5. ”Jupiter Spin” sounds like Marc Bolan (especially when Sprout repeats the “dancing” hook) fronting a psychedelic rock band (not a psychedelic folk band, as Tyrannosaurus Rex – not to be confused with T. Rex – were).
6. ”Save the Company” has a great chorus brought out by drums.
7. Tobin Sprout’s ”Record Level Love” has a lovely jangle. (Probably redundant – when have you heard a jangle that wasn’t lovely?)
8. I like the last ten seconds of “Calling Up Washington” because Pollard fleshes out the chorus with a playful “ring ring” (wish he did this was the previous instance of the chorus). That might not be a compliment for any other song, but considering this one’s about a minute, that’s a compliment worth noting. Nice bass tone too, I guess – adds to the sleepy atmosphere of the song that suggests that no one’s going to call Washington.
9. ”Zero Elasticity” has a guitar riff that oozes swagger that would make it a keeper in its own right, but then the band employs backing vocals in a drunken chromatic climb that make it easily one of the album’s best songs.
10. The last minute of “Shine (Tomahawk Breath)” is easily the album’s prettiest minute, the most engaging solo whereas other songs – if they had solos – had them more out of formality than anything else. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the last minute on this song sounds like the title.
11. ”Vote for Dummies” uses these sharp snare rolls to push it along. Elsewhere, “Mary, you’re beautiful (pause) right now” is a good line and Pollard’s “find me a river” is a good enough melody.
12. ”Some Things Are Big and Some Things Are Small” has neat little sprinkles of piano in its verses and I think if the band knew how to play string instruments, they would have used them for the choruses, but they don’t, so they use a ton of feedback. Which oddly accomplishes the same end result.
The rest? The last 30-some seconds of “Difficult Outburst and Breakthrough” has Pollard cramming a lot of words into lines as possible and “A Bird with No Wings” is the closest thing Pollard comes to a ballad on the album (though it enters some lo-fi climax in its end) so those are worth hearing at least once. As with every other Guided by Voices albums, there is filler, but as with every other Guided by Voices filler tracks, these songs are often so short that being subjected to them won’t make your life any worse than it already is. There is some bad stuff mixed in: “I Am Columbus” employs a wonderful juxtaposition from the clear-as-day keyboards breaking through the lo-fi sludge, easily one of the album’s brighter ideas, unfortunately marred by the fact that you’re sick of hearing that idea halfway through (the thing about making most of your songs clock in under 2 minutes is that the songs that over 2 minutes feel a lot longer than they actually are) while “Evangeline Dandelion” has the band throwing a lot of ideas at the wall hoping something sticks (whispers of bass, backing vocals and, in the last ten seconds, a sitar, or at least something manipulated into a sitar and audience applause to wrap it all up) but nothing does.
That being said, in comparison with the other albums since their reunion, it’s shorter (a good thing) and probably better overall (a great thing).