Guided by Voices
On their second album for Matador following a controversial stint with TVT Records, Guided by Voices appear to have recovered from the stumble caused by pandering to the alleged wishes of their varied existing fans and some putative new, nameless audience that was waiting to be broken. The creative indecision since Do the Collapse was beginning to test the patience of casual GBV listeners right along with Bob Pollard’s most die-hard disciples. With Earthquake Glue, Pollard and his now-familiar lineup have made the record they have long been aching to make, a blatant rock ‘n’ roll love affair which still hints at the unconventional recording ethic that endeared them to the college and indie crowds in the early Nineties. If a song like “My Son, My Secretary and My Country” (incidentally featuring an intro by the eighth grade band at the Esther Dennis Middle School) can be done in less than two minutes, why draw it out to meet some arbitrary three-minute radio rule? And if a repetitive computerized burble seems to complement “I’ll Replace You with Machines,” at least in theme, why not capitalize on it?
And yet Earthquake Glue remains stylistically a tame and unoriginal album — enough to cause one to wonder if the law of diminishing returns isn’t starting to have an effect on Pollard and his rumored four thousand song repertoire. After the halfway mark, the outstanding track “The Best of Jill Hives,” Earthquake Glue slips into a bland sameness that fails to match the sonic diversity of its rather weak predecessor, Universal Truths and Cycles, or even one of the much maligned, commercially oriented records on TVT. The final seven tracks here are stuck in a facile, overlong, two-chord rut. Had they been omitted altogether, this would have been a strong EP, likely prompting the celebration of Pollard’s grand artistic return (despite some disciples’ best efforts, no recent GBV release has merited such a claim); instead Earthquake Glue is a poorly sequenced, front-heavy, relatively average full-length.
Pollard had made it known with the release of UTAC that in addition to applying a “best of both worlds” (i.e., studio and lo-fi) approach, he would be deliberately moving his music in a rock direction. The drawback to this is that he’s slowly losing touch with his quirky indie pop songsmith side, kicking out songs that sound more and more like early The Who (okay, this was a trend while GBV was still basement hopping in Dayton, but the homage is getting old, not to mention worryingly imitative) or T. Rex on steroids, and less and less like Pollard. As a band, GBV has to accommodate the ambitious rock anthems of late as well as the rapid-fire pop ditty of Alien Lanes and Propeller, otherwise Pollard risks losing the whimsical, devil-may-care quality that imbued his ragtag outfit with such a unique charm, and also distinguished it from the rest of the dime-a-dozen Who-inspired rock acts. GBV has shown that it can dabble in any musical style with relative critical impunity; let’s hope that Pollard quits dabbling in rock mediocrity of his own accord, and soon.