CD Review: Robert Pollard
Whether it was for Guided by Voices or one of his countless side projects and solo efforts, Robert Pollard has never thrown away an idea. Or, if he has, it must've been a truly awful idea, because with a count of more than 800 songs and somewhere around 50 albums to his credit, Pollard seems to press every half-baked riff, slightest illumination, and potential hook into service. (He's even released boxed sets of outtakes.) The modus operandi: First Thought, Next Thought! It isn't the journey that matters or even the destination, but rather the opportunity to keep the checklist checked. Three new albums! Mission accomplished. What "To Do" tomorrow?
There's no reason for this much output. And now, released under his own name on the same day, we get Coast to Coast Carpet of Love and Standard Gargoyle Decisions, two meandering 16- and 17-track albums that are similar enough in tone and approach to be edited down to one strong 12-track album.
Meanwhile, the outfit known as Circus Devils - featuring Pollard's lyrics and vocals added to the music and production of multi-instrumentalist Todd Tobias, who appears on all of Pollard's albums, and brother Tim Tobias - released Sgt. Disco a mere 3 months ago, and it runs through 32 tracks in 68 minutes. Here, the quicker, more experimental aura works to the advantage of spacey jams like "The Assassins' Ballroom (Get Your Ass In)" and "The Winner's Circle" and the creaky piano notes of "Nicky Highpockets." The album's lo-fi qualities don't repay headphone listening, but the primitive sound does serve the offhand mood.
However, for Pollard's "proper" albums, the emphasis on lo-fi authenticity means that the guitars often come across cheap and tinny - and the power-punk grandeur of "Spider Eyes," the closing track on Standard Gargoyle Decisions, stays in the garage. But the real problem isn't sound; it's execution. Three cuts into that album, and it seems as if the "band" (Pollard and Todd Tobias) is loitering around directionless midsong. The guitar riff drops to the floor, and they're talking to each other - the kind of thing you'd expect to hear on a bootleg (and even then be less than excited with the discovery). It isn't until Track 5, "Shadow Port," that the energy congeals for an entire tune.
Slowly come the Standard peaks. "Butcher Man" sounds like a Tom Waits fan discovering the Beatles. "Motion Sickness Ghosts" pummels with a robotic Velvet Underground rhythm and Pollard's usual Anglo-inspired wailings that twist to a sudden falsetto and hard-rock guitar leads. "Folded Claws" builds from vague dissonance to a spirited chorus. "Don't Trust Anybody" has a paranoid New Wave bounce.
Coast to Coast Carpet of Love is more consistent, if only modestly enthralling. "Dumb Lady," "Miles Under the Skin," and "Slow Hamilton" churn along in the familiar GBV pop drone that mines a lost Kinks album, recasts the Left Banke, and pretends to be Robyn Hitchcock's long-lost cousin. Old fans may prefer Pollard's earlier attempts at these types of tunes, but at least he's still punching the clock with enthusiasm. He just needs a quality-control manager. Apply today.