Robert Pollard – Faulty Superheroes – Album Review

Robert Pollard is off to business again. Releasing his second album in three months (the last one under the high school band moniker Ricked Wicky), he once again proves his unparalleled capacity to effortlessly swing between the musically prolific and profligate. His mastery of the big budget lo-fi sound remains intact, and this album is as potent as any of his prior solo work. Opening track “What A Man” is typical of his oeuvre, a ragged-but-polished anthem that transmogrifies his classic rock instincts into something new entirely, and breathes renewed vigor into what could easily become staid and dull.

“Café of Elimination” revives Uncle Bob’s playful disdain for hipsterdom, previously exhibited on tracks like “Intellectual Types” on I Sell the Circus. Indeed, one might expect the “Intellectual Types” to be hanging out at “The Café of Elimination,” a difficult thought to countenance when you’re perhaps writing about independent music in a café yourself. Still, the song is a jangly charmer which concludes all too quickly. Pollard slows things down a little on the following title track, but he’s simply pacing his seduction of your ears. The song has such a relentless Kinks-singalong charisma to it, I found myself beaming at my computer screen like an ear-budded idiot. The guitar work sounds like some undiscovered Tom Verlaine riff, subtly submerged beneath the gentle squall of the song, and ultimately cast of with a self-unconscious shrug.

A third of the way through, Pollard picks it up again with “Faster the Great,” a not-quite punk track laden with jabs at the sugar free ambition of our contemporary condition. Nipping at its heels is the psychrock fueled “Real Wilderness,” a sullen stroll down a lonely highway that’s equal parts Hank Williams and Cheap Trick. Speaking of highways, “Photo Enforced Human Highway” drips with the rock weirdness that made Pollard great. No matter how recondite his lyrics, Pollard still manages to sound accessible, transmuting the very particular contents of his arcane thoughts into the universal felt experience of his songs. It’s a rare fucking talent, and this may be his best album since GBV’s Cool Planet, and his best solo effort since Honky Tonk Locust. Let me take away the modifier; this is definitely his best album since then.

“Take me to Yolita” and the acoustic “Perikeet Vista” progress from vague longing into tender melancholy, the sort one might want nurture instead of discard. These are followed with the near-perfect “Up and Up and Up,” a song possessed of all the easy grace of anything on Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes. “You Only Need One” has the same feel, though it’s a tad overshadowed by its predecessor. The slower “Bizarro’s Last Quest” eventually leads us to “Mozart’s Throne,” a convergence of power chords that sounds like grunge, prog, and British Invasion all reconstituted in a delicious new arrangement.

Faulty Superheroes is a great fucking album, suffused throughout with that elusive quintessence of Pollardness that has commanded the attention of so many for so long. My only complaint is that it’s too short at its approximate half hour length, but like any good showman, Uncle Bob knows to leave his audience wanting more. I’m loathe to quote myself, but in my last review of his work I said: “I daresay that the loss of my beloved Guided By Voices might be less a devastating blow than a harbinger of creative renewal.” Faulty Superheroes confirms that hypothesis. I’m an unabashed fan, but this is worth a listen for anyone, whether you’re new to Pollard’s work or someone who’s been on the Postal Blowfish mailing list for years. Pollard remains as indefatigable as ever, and his talents continue to swell. He has nowhere to go but up and up and up.

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