Music Reviews

Guided By Voices

Human Amusement at Hourly Rates


The ridiculously prolific Robert Pollard has finally found a couple of spare minutes in-between writing and recording his daily dozen of new songs to put together a compilation album, his first ever (disregarding a box set or two) in a career that stretches over almost twenty years and more releases than man is capable of counting (actually, about twenty full-lengths). For anyone but the most hardened GBV fans, it’s hard to keep track of the man’s career, and as this “best of” collection contains no unreleased material, one suspects that this is primarily targeted towards the not-so-devoted GBV fan. But just in case hardcore fans should feel a bit left out (and so that Pollard can add yet another release to his novel-size discography), an “extended” best of box set (Hardcore UFOs) has been released to coincide with this album. It containing a differently sequenced version of Human Amusement as well as a bunch of hard-to-find songs, previously unreleased tracks and a DVD.

But the latter is for the pros. The rest of us will happily settle for this one-disc, 32-tracks, 77-minutes affair, which is just about the best GBV compilation one could imagine. It naturally focuses on Pollard’s greatest songs but also includes a few less great ones, offering the most balanced overview of GBV’s career so far. The material stretches from 1987 to 2003, but Human Amusement is mainly preoccupied with the years from 1994 to 1999, the time span that saw Pollard produce his most fully realized albums and break into the mainstream. Bee Thousand (1994) and Alien Lanes (1995) are represented by more tracks than any other album, indicating that Pollard is in agreement with his fans on what his finest work is.

His first major label disc, 1999’s Do the Collapse, was guaranteed to split hardcore devotees and newcomers, the former regarding it as a ludicrous streamlining of Pollard’s musical eccentricities, while newcomers were happy to finally discover that Pollard wasn’t such a weird guy after all. In hindsight, it’s fair to say that while that album isn’t necessarily his best one, it’s far better than it originally got credit for being, and that, in spite of the band sounding uncomfortable with not having to rush things, GBV produced some great tracks for this. Pollard seems to think so too, as Do the Collapse is also well represented here.

For newcomers, this is now the definitive starting point for discovering what a tremendous songwriter and performer Pollard can be. Human Amusement contains some of his absolute finest moments, as well as providing a rough outline of the band’s long history. GBV’s albums aren’t always as good as their best songs, to put it mildly, Pollard regularly being too generous when it comes to presenting fans with new material. Then again, GBV wouldn’t have been the same without their frenzied output. Try this if you’re unfamiliar with the band, and work your way from here. Even old fans should love this compilation – whether they want to admit it or not – for its careful selection of tracks and its timely summary of one of the most admired songwriters in US indie rock today.

Matador Records:

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