While with his former band Guided by Voices, Tobin Sprout may have been viewed as the George Harrison to Pollard's Lennon/McCartney due to the unequal songwriting output on that band's albums; but with his solo career, Sprout has situated himself much more aggressively as the McCartney (with a bit of the dark moodiness of George Harrison) of the two. Though cut from the same pop/rock cloth as Pollard, he is less fly-by-night in the moment, and his songs are completely, immaculately structured as pop songs. Sprout's introspection also seems much closer to the surface, less mystifying, than Pollard's. Having transplanted himself from Dayton to Michigan, Let's Welcome the Circus People finds Sprout (literally, but perhaps symbolically as well) on his own. He is even moving closer to the completely homemade nature of McCartney's first few solo albums, as the album finds its creator making every sound and playing every instrument other than drums on three tracks. Sprout's songs tend not to carry immediately accessible hooks, and so can seem melodically samey after a length of concentrated listening, but if chewed on devotedly, the songs begin to open up and reveal their considerable charms. Besides the McCartney influence ("Digging Up Wooden Teeth"), Sprout seems to have learned some things from '80s-era Moody Blues (the melody of "Maid to Order") and Tom Petty ("Liquor Bag," right down to the last jangle in the guitars), as well as retaining the expected new wave influence ("Smokey Joe's Perfect Hair"). But on the beautiful, nostalgic, piano-led "Who's Adolescence" and tremendous "Lucifer's Flaming Hour," Sprout has finally planted his flag firmly in his own ground and staked out territory that has only his name on it.
AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart