Album: Carnival Boy
. . .
I mean, imagine being the other songwriter in Guided by Voices.
While Tobin Sprout, who showed up full-time for 1992’s Propeller — perhaps not coincidentally their first great album — got some co-writing credits and even solo writing credits on albums like Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes he was always going to be overwhelmed by the insanely prolific Robert Pollard, who has written approximately 2,674,887 songs in the past 35 years or so.
So when both Pollard & Sprout issued solo albums in September of 1996, Sprout had more winners stacked up, and his debut — recorded with GBV drmmer Kevin Fennell — Carnival Boy was the best thing associated with Guided by Voices in 1996. Which included Pollard’s pretty good solo debut, Not in My Airforce, GBV’s fanclub only very meh Tonics and Twisted Chasers, and the one “official” Guided by Voices album that year, Under The Bushes Under The Stars, which along with 1993’s Vampire on Titus, was the only album they released between 1992-2001 that was ordinary.
At the end of the CD of Under The Bushes, Under The Stars was the original version of “It’s Like Soul Man,” which was pretty great, but not nearly as great as the version Sprout recorded for Carnival Boy, , which comes roaring out of the gate with blissfully fuzzed-out guitars and Sprout immediately singing what turns out to be the only verse:
I never liked you
Till I took a good look at myself
And when I saw you there
I saw the best part of me was yourself
It’s like soul man
It’s like soul man
It’s like soulllllllllllll mannnnnnnn
As is often the case with GBV lyrics, it’s not exactly sure what’s going on: does “it’s like soul man” have something to do with, you know, the eternal soul, or is he comparing the situation to the Sam & Dave song, “Soul Man“? Unclear.
And honestly, it doesn’t even matter, because the fun of it, of course is how Sprout holds out “it’s like soullllllllllll, mannnnnnnnnnnnnn” sometimes by himself, but sometimes with his overdubbed harmonies. In between second and third verse, there’s a wonderful blissed-out fuzzed-up guitar solo, and Fennells drum rolls, but mostly it’s just the massive hook and Sprout’s singing, all of it invoking that weird lo-fi moment of the mid-1990s utterly perfectly.
“It’s Like Soul Man”
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