Review Summary: Guided By Voices finish on a high, releasing an extremely satisfying ending to a maddening discography.
How do you make it easy on yourself, nay, your fans, to end a career flooded with packed releases, energetic live performances, and above all, a cryptic, maddening at times style? Guided by Voices certainly appropriately succeeded the above descriptions, containing the talent of writing nonsensical songs that still attracted a following. Short, sharp pieces were present - with feeling that also possessed the manic, amusing cheek the band owned, especially due to front man Robert Pollard. Throughout the bands career, the band have moved from their original lo-fi roots to a searching ‘professional sound’ which altered directions slightly, though the feel of the band very much retained. Experimental, shorter songs were replaced with more defined, three minute region pieces. This, despite irritating some older fans, has brought more fame to the band than originally spurred. With the bands final hurrah, Half Smiles Of The Decomposed
, there is no return to a one minute flash of brilliance. Each track, however, has a fast-paced Guided by Voices feel unto it, making itself an addicting album.
Simplicity excels within this album melodically, Pollard continuing to impress with his straightforward standards for composing. Opening track “Everyone Thinks I’m a Raincloud (When I’m Not Looking)” does not offer challenge upon listen, with a simple line-up instrumentally, and is a great example of the catchiness this album aims for. “Gonna Never Have to Die” is also an upbeat work, with a catchy intro leading into what essentially becomes a typical song. Half Smiles Of The Decomposed
is definitely approachable, to say the least. Lyrically, however, the album has a Pollard signature feel. While track titles and poetry may not appear as enigmatic as older classics (many of the songs from Bee Thousand
and Alien Lanes
are incomparably stranger) overall presents an easy-going experience without actually being that. “(S)mothering and Coaching” comes close to the oddity by its title, and moments of bizarre words, such as Frequently for squeezing, anything too pleasing for them
. “Sons of Apollo” also refuses to go down the accessible path others may, opening with an almost marching beat of drums, accompanied by a speech campaigning on ‘ruling against smut’ – an intense opener to one of the more meaningful tracks on the album.
Sometimes this endeavour to create peculiar songs whilst not straying from the formula of the bands simply does not work, unfortunately. “Tour Guide At the Winston Churchill Memorial” fades into obscurity and accomplishes very little. Blips like this suggest that Pollard and the band are in places trying too hard to create their final masterpiece – occasionally breaking up the flow of all their efforts as a result. However when you consider how much replay factor this album has, it’s not hard to overlook these issues. Songs including (though not limited to) “Asia Minor” and “Huffman Prairie Flying Field” show off the band combining confusing lyrical work and emphatic instrument production to create wholly enjoyable moments.
Of course a farewell would expected to reintroduce some of the oldest aspects of a band, and this album does not include one of the most acclaimed items of Guided By Voices – there is not one exceptionally short track. Before Guided By Voices had moved to their professional era, this was certainly fitting ‘experimentation’ for the band. Returning to the roots of pieces similar in their length to “Buzzards and Dreadful Crows”, “Hardcore UFOs” or the twenty-four second “Hit” is in no way apparent here. Does that damage the album in any way? Were this album supposed to be collecting and emulating the band’s career up until now, then obviously, we would be lacking the band’s forte. Half Smiles Of The Decomposed
, on the other hand, is just Guided By Voices final album. It is not every single one of their albums put together. Nor is it a collection of songs that outright would not continue onto each other acceptably.
So perhaps this isn’t Guided By Voices defining moment, summarising their every move. Perhaps the final live show (Live at Austin, TX
) can timeline their moves without shuffling through their intimidating discography. Half Smiles Of The Decomposed
, however, is merely another album by the band. It may not be the ‘classic line-up’ for the bands dying moments, and it may indeed be a burden to create an album hyped to reach the heights of older efforts. It is however, a consistently fantastic listen, failing to be as good as classics Robert Pollard and his band have put out, but always aspiring to be up there with the greater moments in their history.