Coast to Coast Carpet of Love / Standard Gargoyle Decisions
ow’s the time of the year when personally, despite possibly having my music crit. membership revoked, the world of sport holds more interest than even Radiohead’s October surprise. I will however give pause for Robert Pollard’s annual autumnal song harvest and hopefully Uncle Bob (who was a three-sport stud at Northridge High School) will find a baseball analogy apt. Pollard’s past few seasons since dissolving Guided By Voices have been somewhat streaky, with his platinum melodies few and far between. In 2007, as prolific a year as ever, he’s batting a respectable .300 (the Circus Devils a bizarre triumph, the Takeovers a welcome diversion, and Silverfish Trivia a misguided bore), for those invested in statistics. It’s the playoffs though and Pollard has rolled out Coast to Coast Carpet of Love and Standard Gargoyle Decisions simultaneously, two records on which he adheres his birth name. While both albums are worthy of that distinction—featuring some of the most nuanced and textured songwriting of his career—they simply don’t have the verve to carry him through the off season.
Pre-hype has pegged the releases as his Beatles and Stones, but his ying and yang are composed of his adoration towards the Peters (Buck and Gabriel), often recalling the grandeur and studied movements of GBV albums like Same Place the Fly Got Smashed and Devil Between My Toes, nearly twenty years removed. There are no longer budget constraints, 30-second happy accidents, and late-night epiphanies; this is Pollard at his most calculated, proving himself the architect of the perfect pop song and the best moments of Coast to Coast showcase this presence.
There’s the subtle fist-pump anthem “Rud Fins,” the stuttered melodic soar and rhythmic shuffle of “Customer’s Throat,” and the pied piper march in finale “Nicely Now” to choose from, each stamped with Pollard’s trademark lyrical obtuseness and bittersweet phrasing. “Slow Hamilton” though is undoubtedly the gem of the entire collection; here the melancholic jangle of early R.E.M. fits neatly into Pollard’s patriarchal, elder statesman theme on Coast to Coast. Unfortunately half the album suffers from songs with half the inspiration of “Slow Hamilton,” a homogeneity that could be alleviated by compounding Coast to Coast’s creamy top-tier with Gargoyle’s raucous sharp edges.
The latter is more or less a streamlined version of Pollard and Todd Tobias’ Circus Devils project which is often prone to play-acting and epic bloat. Gargoyle does a fine job trimming out the excess prog and lets Pollard to unravel a rust-belt Foxtrot. “Island Lobby,” an ominous opera in three minutes, broadcasts Pollard’s prominent dark side, as does “Shadow Port,” a sort of post-grunge, grey-haired-punk dirge that proves he still owns a few Wire records. Then again the awkward bridges, character voices, and forced swagger of Gargoyle’s middle (most offensive is “Butcher Man”) coax out more chuckles than awe—the album’s worst indulgences suited for a future production of Tarkus: The Musical. Still, given the ratio of catchiness to cockiness, Pollard is allowed some guffaws.
What’s best for Bob may be a change of scenery—a trip to the tropics with the acoustic guitar and the new wife? I’m not asking for another Bee Thousand, just some color, some new blood, some wild mood swings. Granted Coast to Coast Carpet of Love is the most realized boon of the duo’s collaboration and Standard Gargoyle Decisions an evil little concept record, but there’s a uniformed and generally recycled process to how Tobias translates Pollard’s whimsy. What these releases do prove is that Pollard is not a grizzled veteran, or even a fading captain, he may just be at the precipice of another golden age. Not to shabby considering he’s entering the second-half of a century.