Egads, but Robert Pollard is prolific. Even as I conduct this admittedly overdue review, he’s released another teaser from the forthcoming Faulty Superheroes, due out April 28th. I’m confident that we could solve the world’s energy problems if we could tap into whatever it is that fuels Pollard (I’m pretty sure it’s beer). Still, while his cup runneth over with creativity, does he deliver the goods with this, his first post Guided By Voices effort (Ok, not really his first. And it’s more like post-post-Guided By Voices. Let’s just call it his “latest solo effort.”)?
My GBV fandom runs deep, and I’ve already articulated my deep and abiding love for both Pollard and the band elsewhere, so I’m obligated to disclose my bias. While I must report that this is by no means the best Pollard solo record (that title goes to Not in My Airforce. Or Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department. Or Waved Out.), it’s still damn good, and a strong indication that Uncle Bob will remain a profuse font of rock and roll, even after the dissolution of GBV. I Sell the Circus both harkens to earlier albums and points toward the horizon of experimentation that Pollard has always directed himself. There are a few missteps along the way, but nothing egregious or unforgivable. Besides, nothing that has Pollard’s fingerprints on it gets away from a few scuffs and bruises during the artistic tryouts.
“Well Suited,” the opening track, reveals the swerving repetition and divergence of Pollard’s career. Similar enough to the earlier songs – I swore I detected snippets of “Wire Greyhounds” throughout my initial listening – but wily enough in the structure to keep fans guessing. This is followed by “Death Metal Kid,” wherein Pollard jerks the wheel once again, veering into mid-tempo aggression and weirded-up arena rock swagger, later reiterated in varying form on “Piss Face”. The track I found myself revisiting most often, “Guts,” rattles its way through two minutes of the free association poetics for which Pollard is famous. “Cow-Headed Moon” is down-tempo British Invasion, undergirded by Magical Mystery Tour oompah-pah organ sounds. There are unexpected flutters of pseudo-Spanish guitar on “Even Today and Tomorrow” and the instrumental “Tomorrow.” There’s even a song entitled “Uranus Flies;” an execrably stupid name, but the track is an unabashed foot-stomper. Ricked Wicky is all over the place without being all over the place, if that makes any sense.
What I find most interesting about Pollard’s latest output is its capacity to be shaggy and slick, lo-fi yet well produced. Uncle Bob has always been a sonic Dr. Moreau, engineering a crossbreed sound that is majestic, loveable, and remarkably human, despite its mongrel origin. Ricked Wicky, as the latest incarnation of Pollard’s prodigious talent, is markedly more classic rock in character, with a few moments of acoustic introspection. Pollard devotees have undoubtedly bought the album already, but I Sell the Circus may not be the best introduction to his work for newcomers. Nonetheless, I’m curious to see what this presages. With his 21st(!) solo record forthcoming, I daresay that the loss of my beloved Guided By Voices might be less a devastating blow than a harbinger of creative renewal.
I Sell The Circus is available via Fire Records.