If there is one person I can say I have loved, hated, been obsessed with, been completely frustrated with, wished I had never heard of or wished I could be all at the same time, that person would be Robert Pollard. My feelings about the aged Guided By Voices songwriting captain (or Fading Captain, as he has come to be known) have undergone more of a rigorous emotional rollercoaster than any I have had about any songwriter – maybe even any girl. Yes, I am that gay for GBV.
Seriously, though – what other reaction is to be expected from such an inconsistent catalog of music? Those initial GBV albums that changed my life forever – starting with Bee Thousand through Under the Bushes, Under the Stars – set such a high bar for rock music back in the mid-nineties, even with all their garage-y, lo-fi anomalies. Something about the quality of that music, even when presented as shitty recordings, was undeniable. And with 85%-90% of the songwriting being credited to Pollard on those records, it would be easy for anyone to think that he was the backbone of this era of GBV.
Cut to 2005, the post-GBV years – Pollard continued to shower his fans with music…music that literally sounded like it came off the top of Pollard’s head with no editing or tweaking whatsoever. This idea could be cool and all, but after listening to his post GBV solo albums, it becomes quite clear that Pollard is just not very good at those things. What he excels at is coming up with awesome riffs and mangled bar poetry, and only after this new GBV record with the classic Bee Thousand era lineup was released did I realize just how much importance the other band members play in the dynamic of GBV; or, just how much of a band this band really is.
The main thing that made me realize this on the band’s new album, Let’s Go Eat the Factory, is the quality of contributions by Tobin Sprout and, now that he’s back, how everything just has that classic GBV feel to it. The songs aren’t as good as that, for the most part, but the consensus seems to be (and I wholeheartedly agree) that no one actually expected Factory to be this good. In reality, I don’t think people expected it to be good at all, in light of Pollard’s recent output. Now, all of a sudden, we get the old guys back together – Greg Demos and his striped pants, Mitch Mitchell and his cigarette-in-mouth mainstay, and Sprout’s tuneful wizardry to name a few aspects – and it seems to be working again, almost just as it used to. One thing I take issue with is the album cover. Pollard has become well known for his collage skills, and perhaps because he thought people would expect something really cool, he decided to opt with something that looks like it was thrown together on a home computer in less than three minutes. Obviously that was the point – the cover certainly reflects the amateur pastiche feel of the album itself – but it just seems lazy to me. That’s probably what Pollard wanted people to think, too. Oh Rob, you’re so ironic.
Why did these guys ever have to go away? Well, recent news has brought rumors of yet another breakup after the band cancelled their 2012 tour dates. This was, like, right before their new record came out, and they cited “personal reasons” as the explanation. That has to mean they are not getting along, right? Maybe someone is having a family crisis, or something, but with how important all the members are to this band, I could understand some big egos flying around. Sprout has six contributions on Factory – that might be more than he has ever had on a GBV album. I’m thinking he had to fight for a few of those – I might be wrong, but after not being in this band for over a decade and I’m sure getting a bunch of people coming up to him saying “I LOOOVE your GBV songs! Why weren’t there more?!?”, Sprout had to have been waiting for this moment, and had to have prepared himself to attempt to cage the angry tiger that is Pollard. With the quality of Sprout’s songs here, he has proven he is almost as important to GBV as Pollard – Pollard may be the mascot and the shining figure of the band, but Sprout is the guy that holds everything together and makes it all presentable…even when it sounds like shit.
According to the group’s Facebook page, the band has definitely not split, and is actually readying ANOTHER album for May of 2012 called Class Clown Spots A UFO. I am more than intrigued, wondering if it will be more or less a sequel to Factory, or if we will get something altogether different. That’s another reason why I like having GBV back with us, at least for now – you just never know with these guys.
Here is GBV in a recent Letterman performance of the lead single, “The Unsinkable Fats Domino”.