One of the few CDs that always finds its way into the stereo at the bookstore where I work is Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand. I’m never the one to put it on, but I enjoy hearing the lo-fi strains of unabashedly anthemic power-pop and British Invasion guitar riffing. It’s come to stand as the marker I use to judge the rest of Robert Pollard’s unceasing output. Enter Normal Happiness, his second album for Merge Records. While he’s come a long way in terms of sonic quality from Bee Thousand, his songwriting retains that drunken, grinning exuberance from ten years earlier. The rolling, summery grooves of “Accidental Texas Who” kick the disc off with power chords and drum fills galore, segueing nicely into the down-strummed guitars and chaotic synth freak out “Whispering Whip.” These two tracks together barely push past three minutes, but this is more the exception than the rule. There’s less of the “snippet-rock” offered here than on previous GBV releases, which has its positives and negatives. There was something glorious in the amateurishness of recording a great 40 second chorus and calling it a song, but with Pollard growing up and slowing down, his songwriting feels unhurried and more able to stroll amiably (the piano-bouncer “Serious Bird Woman (You Turn Me On)”), capture some of late ’70s glitter of bands like Fleetwood Mac (“Get A Faceful”) and mete out some nods toward prog (“Gasoline Ragtime” and “Full Sun (Dig the Slowness)”). Slightly more polished and with more genres at his disposal, Natural Happiness-era Robert Pollard sounds vital and innovative. Enjoy it now, because who knows what he’ll turn out next month.
Merge Records: www.mergerecords.com