Legendary line-up delivers its first album in 15 years with mixed results.
Spencer Grady 2012-01-12
Since getting the classic line-up of his band back together in 2010, the focus of Guided by Voices’ reunion has naturally centred on the group’s leader Robert Pollard. Would the mic-twirling, beer-swilling, scissor-kicking, ex-high school teacher be able to get the best out of his boozy troupe? Could he whip his fellow veteran garage-rockers into decent enough shape to repeat the feats of Vampire on Titus, Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes; a suite of 90s albums brimming with joyous hooks and quirky lo-fi charm?
Well, the answer is, fairly predictably, no, not quite. And it’s arguably Pollard who proves the biggest stumbling block. Repeated listens to Let’s Go Eat the Factory reveal a paucity of the pithy lyric and classic riff on which he’s built a deserved reputation. Many of his contributions here seem slight, half-finished approximations of former glories. How I Met My Mother and My Europa initially offer promise, ticking the checklist of requisite components for a potential Pollard classic before stalling, leaving behind largely unforgettable shadows of finer moments. The sweet-toothed single Doughnut for a Snowman and see-sawing synths of Hang Mr Kite would do most other bands proud, but come on, this is GBV. These tunes lack the spark – or could it be the care? – of catalogue favourites like Tractor Rape Chain and Game of Pricks, which carried with them an indefinable magic that conferred upon them a longevity that no Pollard composition here could ever enjoy.
Indeed, it’s the songs of Pollard’s erstwhile sideman, Tobin Sprout, that threaten to steal this particular show. The luscious eddying buzz of Waves hubbubs along like Hüsker Dü recording for Flying Nun in the late-80s, the track’s vaporous melodies cocooning the listener in a candied canyon of honeyed cloud. Meanwhile, album highlight Old Bones is a heart-breaking folk shanty, complete with the same woozy organ sound that accompanied Roky Erickson on his heroic True Love Cast Out All Evil. Sprout even manages to fuse these two extremities on Spiderfighter, without threat of implosion, trailing out on the same stately piano refrain that graced Son Volt’s Slow Hearse. Shining brightest among …Factory’s clutter, it’s Sprout who has fully seized the opportunity afforded by this line-up’s reformation.