Tobin Sprout and Robert Pollard were, at one time, one of the best songwriting teams in rock. Though they do capture some of the old magic this time around, the quality of the songs is just not as consistent as in years past. The two singles that were released prior to this LP, "Stifled Man Casino" and "Total Exposure," are both great examples of what the duo is capable of. They contributed to the already healthy buzz generated by this project, the first collaboration between Sprout and Pollard since the fan club-only Guided by Voices record Tonics and Twisted Chasers. Sprout's instrumentals sound as they ever did, eight track ablaze with guitar-laden three- or four-chord progressions in a moderate rock; occasionally great, they sometimes sound bleary. In turn, Pollard's delivery sometimes comes off sounding like drunken, forced enthusiasm. Thankfully, however, this album isn't all drear and indolence. The aforementioned singles are excellent, and the album's closer, "Remain Lodging (At Airport 5)," is as good as any of the more poignant tunes on Isolation Drills. Pollard sounds genuinely sad, relating a claustrophobic survival method: "It's hard to be a bird/in a flying house/it's how to be a drone/in a hive of women." Also noteworthy is the lovely ballad "The Cost of Shipping Cattle" and the jangle of "Circle of Trim," both of which are on the much more successful second half of the record. Perhaps the long-distance tape trade (Sprout recording the music in Michigan and Pollard recording the vocals in Ohio) made the songs suffer, or maybe the once-dynamic duo just needs some time to reacquaint themselves. It is true that Tower in the Fountain of Sparks sounds like almost any of the pre-Bee Thousand GBV recordings, and that sound alone is enough to inspire something in anyone who remembers it. What's unfortunate here is that the key elements that made those albums so exciting -- the brilliantly simple, catchy songwriting and the good-time rock & roll attitude -- are fleeting and impalpable where they used to be solid.
AllMusic Review by Bryan Carroll