I was curious to hear what Robert Pollard’s first album after reuniting Guided By Voices would sound like. Would he return to the lo-fi fragments of the mid-’90s? Would he revisit the large-scale power pop of the TVT era? Or, would he just continue making the same kind of records he’s been making with shocking regularity since Guided By Voices disbanded in 2004? Space City Kicks comes closest to the latter, but it’s also far more angular than most of his recent work. If anything, about 1/3 of the eighteen songs resemble the maniacal acid-fried prog of Circus Devils, perhaps the least commercial of Pollard’s musical projects. When Pollard and collaborator Todd Tobias give you tight arena-sized hooks on “I Wanna Be Your Man In The Moon,” “Something Strawberry,” and the awesome title track, it reconfirms how great this Dayton indie-rock institution can be. However, when he lets his weird side run rampant on “Picture A Star” and “Children Ships,” the results are a chore at best, and flat out annoying at worst. Even if Space City Kicks a mixed bag, there’s still enough rewards to make it a worthwhile pick-up for the Pollard faithful.
- “The Weekly Crow”
- “A Constant Strangle”
- “Arrows and Balloons”
- “Lie Like a Dog”
- “Ice Cold War”
- “Each Is Good in His Own House”
- “How I’ve Been in Trouble”
- “It’s News”
- “It’s a Pleasure Being You”
- “Big Time Wrestling”
- “Teardrop Painballs”
- “Moses on a Snail”
Looks like 2010 is going to be another busy year in the Pollard song factory, with no less than six albums planned for release under various guises. There have been times in Robert Pollard’s career when too many releases in quick succession means that his quality control standards are down, but if We All Got Out Of The Army is any indication, there may be a tightening the reigns in motion. In fact, it’s his best work since Robert Pollard Is Off To Business, released two years, and about 350 albums, ago. Opener “Silk Rotor” is Pollard at his skewed power-pop finest, “I Can See” gives a sly nod to Guided By Voices lo-fi mid-90’s albums, and “His Knighthood Photograph” is a welcome return to anthemic Who-worship. While Pollard is obviously the star of the show – even taking some rare guitar solos – credit collaborator Todd Tobias’ instrumentation and sharp production skills, which push the album towards the upper ranks of Pollard’s post-GBV output. Perhaps the best thing about this album is that it has me awaiting the next Pollard album (always just a few months away) with more anticipation than I’ve had in years.
2009 has been an exceptionally busy year for Robert Pollard, with Elephant Jokes being his fifth full-length release (with another new album, and a 2-CD set of B-sides and outtakes planned before the year is up). With such rapid-fire output it’s impossible to maintain a high level of quality control on your product, and indeed Elephant Jokes is a messy affair riddled with unrefined songwriting and occasionally bad vocals. There’s still 10-12 good songs mixed in there, especially some of the early tracks like “Johnny Optimist” and “When A Man Walks Away,” but even they don’t resonate like Pollard’s best work should, and sifting through the album’s twenty-two songs to find them can be tedious. I guess there’s truth in advertising, because Elephant Jokes sounds as slapdash as a twenty-two song album by a person releasing seven albums a year should sound. Casual observers and Pollard newcomers should probably sit this one out and check back in two months for his next album.
Coming hot on the heels of 2008’s Is Off To Business, The Crawling Distance continues Robert Pollard’s recent creative rejuvenation. Even if it’s not as focused as Is Off To Business, The Crawling Distance is still among his best work since Guided By Voices’ dissolution in 2004. The album’s ten songs in thirty-five minutes format seems to work as he forces himself to use only the most developed ideas and scrap the under-prepared fragments that have hurt past albums (although, as is par for the course with Pollard, I’m sure these fragments will get released at some point). Let’s face it – by now you know what you’re going to get with his solo albums; however, he’s still capable of pulling a mini-surprise out of his hat, like the Neu!-esque opener “Faking My Harlequin,” which stands out among his usual art-rock/power-pop moods. Not interested in this album? That’s OK – within three months he’ll have another one, if not two.
Although they split up in 2004, the ghost of Guided By Voices hangs over everything Robert Pollard does, and his latest effort is no different. Looking at the cover it’s hard not notice the “GBV” sticker and that the record was released on “Guided By Voices Inc”, Pollard’s new home after a two year tenure on Merge. What separates Robert Pollard Is Off To Business from past GBV/Pollard-related releases is its shocking “solidness”. I’m referring to the sensible 10 song/35 minute duration, and consistently professional production values. Is this the same guy who regularly released albums with more than twenty songs, many of which were recorded on a boombox? Yes it is, and he hasn’t sounded this clean and sharp since GBV’s Isolation Drills from 2001. I give a lot of credit for this rediscovered focus to collaborator (and ex-GBV member) Todd Tobias, who played all the instruments and handled recording, mixing, and producing duties.
While the consistency may indicate a slight shift towards orthodoxy, the songs are still 100% Pollard, still 100% weird. There’s plenty of his trademark obtuse lyrics laying on top of musical references to The Who, Wire, and early prog-rock, but there’s also more memorable songs here than on anything else he’s released in the past few years. Very few guys over 50 release new songs that can ignite a fan’s passions as much as their older work, but Pollard (soon to be 51) adds to his already sizable canon with such soon-to-be classics as “Gratification To Concrete,” “Western Centipede,” and “Weatherman and Skin Goddess” (yell out for this one the next time he plays your town), and unlike most of his recent albums, you don’t have to sift through endless amounts of lesser material to find these increasingly rare gems – the entire album is good from start to finish. Add in some great artwork (also by Pollard, an under-rated visual artist) and you’ve got a return to form from an American original.