Guided By Voices
Half Smiles of the Decomposed
ach of the post-Do The Collapse Guided By Voices albums has been hailed by someone, somewhere as a return to form. Form? Bob Pollard’s prolific output—this is considered the 15th full-length GBV record—includes a desultory deluge of stillborn surrealist post-punk experiments with titles like “Crawdad Apeshit Fried Uncle Whiz” (not an actual title) along with sporadic side trips into sublime lo-fi power-pop fantasia. If nothing else, GBV might have provided the missing link between Un Chien Andalou and Who’s Next. Form? Ambition? Mission statement? “More booze, sirs.”
Let it be stated, clearly, that Guided By Voices’ past five years have justified every criticism thrown at them. Though their newer work is fraught with “maturity” and relative restraint, each album weds only a few gems among a lot of filler. So when Pollard, announcing Half Smiles of the Decomposed as the final GBV release, called it “a record that I’m totally satisfied with as befitting a final album,” what would his decree mean? Well, puzzlingly enough, the new record sounds like a return to…form.
For what seems like the first time, Pollard has written enough consistently hooky material to justify GBV’s recent mid-fi aesthetic. Opener “Everybody Thinks I’m A Rain Cloud (When I’m Not Looking)” and “The Closets of Henry” (both actual titles) sound as anthemic, exuberant and purposeful as their choicest Bee Thousand material, but with the sheen GBV‘s most accessible songs have always deserved. And while “Sleep Over Jack” dabbles in dadaist lyricism and acerbic jangle-prog, and “A Second Spurt of Growth” is a sweetly off-kilter acoustic mini-ballad, the majority of Half Smiles of the Decomposed is structured to yield maximum doses of straightforward, hummable power-pop gratification.
Though lacking in innovation, the final GBV album will please any longtime fan that prefers “Game of Pricks” to “Chicken Blows”. Pollard’s songwriting finally feels consistent, fully realized and commanding. By the end of “Huffman Prairie Flying Field”, when he passionately romanticizes some nebulous thing—yes, Pollard’s lyrics are still vague and mostly nonsensical—that has gone on “for far too long,” it’s hard not to feel a stirring of genuine emotion. Is he talking about his tenure as ringleader of one of indie-rock’s perennial underdogs, or something more personal and insidious? The fact that I actually care to know, years after having officially severed ties with Pollard’s increasingly patchy musical output, is a testament to the lucid, guitar-driven power of nu-GBV. At the end of a long, storied career, this band is off to a good start.
Reviewed by: Akiva Gottlieb
Reviewed on: 2004-08-24