Guided By Voices
Dylan had Self Portrait, The Stones Satanic Majesties. It seems inevitable that once you practice your craft for as long as Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices have, you are gonna hit a lull in the level of your output. Isolation Drills is that record.
Although much grousing was heard from the faithful about the last release, the Ric Ocasek-produced Do The Collapse, that album was actually quite enjoyable, in a big rock, nifty made for radio keyboard sorta way. It added some classic tunes to the GBV cannon — “Teenage FBI” and “Surgical Focus,” to name a few. Plus the band got some much-needed recognition in the mainstream press, which should keep the wolf from the door for awhile. It was a busy year for things Pollard. Numerous solo releases, EPs, and touring kept the former Dayton, Ohio schoolteacher occupied.
Perhaps too occupied. Isolation Drills has the feel of a rushed, unfinished record to it. Relying on the power chord riffage of Doug Gillard in lieu of melodies, the record starts at one tempo, continues at one tempo, and ends the same way. Pollard has always worn his influences on his sleeve — everyone from The Who and The Kinks to bubblegum pop — but he’s always been able to add that special GBV seasoning salt to it all, so while the song might conjure up images of Pete Townshend doing a windmill, the lyrics were in Charles Bukowski-land. For this record, Bob seems to be stuck in the tour bus listening to the bland, big guitar and drum tedium that passes for “alternative rock” these days. Whatever lyrical madness he might have added to the stew is lost, mainly because Rob Schnapf (producer for Beck and Elliot Smith, among others) has the vocals mixed so damn low that Pollard’s voice is smothered. He sounds tired.
Perhaps, like many before them, Guided By Voices is just not a band that operates well in the full-on glare of public acceptance. Maybe they need to return to the quiet seclusion of underground pop and churn out classic songs like “Hot Freaks,” “The Cut-Out Witch,” and the literally hundreds of others that Robert Pollard has penned in the past. While this record is annoyingly bland, one shouldn’t assume that it spells the end of the line for GBV. Because Robert Pollard is, it can be persuasively argued, a genius — one listen to Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes and the case is made. However, like geniuses before him — Dylan, Lou Reed, and others — he’s made a crap record. Not the end of the world, of course. But a sad day, nevertheless.
TVT Records, http://www.tvtrecords.com