Review Summary: While the 'blindy pick an album' rule still applies for Guided By Voices, this collection efficiently scales the band's 'progress' instead of recollecting fan favourites.
If John Frusciante was the musical machine of 2004, Robert Pollard is a superhero in his own right (which he aptly accepts with one of his many solo releases Superman was a rocker
). Spanning two decades, him and his coming and going band mates have created Guided By Voices their own mini-burden. Ask the honestly obsessed fan, trailing through their striking eight-hundred odd song discography and realising how drastically similar the first is to the eight hundredth, but still feeling each an essential. Their sheer mass of music produced has come back to haunt them in a way that screams for provision and ease. Then, come 2003, The Best Of: Human Amusements At Hourly Rates
is half-heartedly released to offer such; a best-of compilation album that becomes as much a pain as it is a time-saver, but additionally a summary of a career somewhat – and quite thankfully in this case, ‘best of’ translates as ‘easy to locate’.
The ‘best’ hits? The band probably couldn’t tell you. On Human Amusements
choice, content and quality rarely seems to be a realistic dilemma for the band. The best example of this is the shunning of “Hold On Hope”; the only enticing splash into the mainstream hushed away for its fan cursed infamy. Classic tracks appear revamped from their brilliant lo-fi sound almost randomly as if they were broken - “I Am A Scientist” taking on new, less fuzzy guitar and sadly losing authenticity, even in its acceptable new outfit. Alien Lanes
saviour “My Valuable Hunting Knife” is sped up and frustratingly more attractive. No doubt these factors could easily irritate the diehard fan, but why would they be listening to Human Amusements
anyway? The album certainly doesn’t merely shy away and provide only the polished taste anyway, with a return to 1987’s sharp dual-guitar piece “Captain’s Dead” sounding as genuine as a Guided By Voices track can. The tracks left behind in their lo-fi are left in fact, to shine. “Shocker In Gloomtown” and “Tractor Rape Chain” still bring brilliant sing-a-longs with the lyrical twists. For these two separate sides of the spectrum, Human Amusements
prevails in showing the decency in the band’s later professionalism, and how the band make ‘run down’ a positive sentiment.
The three quarters or so that remain are a nice random selection that scale twenty years of one formula; take signature unintelligible Pollard lyrics, invent catchiness with a plausible guitar melody, repeat until bored. This method survives on the band’s sheer distractedness to bother pushing the song past one or, in the most extreme of cases, two minutes. “Non-Absorbing” says what it wants to say (Do You See Me/Like I See You
smothered with tacky Doo doo doo
s) in a jangle-pop way that feels attributed to most of the bands contribution to music. “Hot Freaks”, too, is swiftly important in managing to show up the sleazy, idiosyncratic side of Guided By Voices that occurs in nearly all albums. I met a non-dairy creamer/Explicitly laid out like a fruitcake/With a wet spot/Bigger than a great lake
engages the listener in Bob Pollard’s most significant involvement for the band – weirdness in words. It shows time and time again, be it down to the peculiar repetition of “Exit Flagger” or the emphatic lone wail of Hey hey glad girls/Only wanna get you high
on “Glad Girls”. Everything here is touched by Pollard, making it more and more impossible for him to hide being a pseudo-madman, and making him all the more loveable.
could easily be just another Guided By Voices release to the unknowing; thirty-two fast-paced quirky numbers, each quite unrelated in concept but connected in sound. The only triumph over the band’s stream of releases on this compilation is its ability to be the only album by Pollard’s men over an hour. That isn’t necessarily a commendable fact, considering tracks start to sound entirely the same and suffer from a typical best-of blend – even with a lack of any real ‘mould’ on their original placements, “I Am A Tree” is four minutes wasted that would be captured four years later on the two-minute guitar chords of “Chasing Heather Crazy”. Even “Echos Myron” and “Gold Star For Robot Boy”, make the acclaimed Bee Thousand
feel over-indulged and one-sided.
To the none-the-wiser majority, however, is the lunacy of choice a bad thing? The way it represents the band to any beginner actually makes Human Amusements
exist for a purpose. It drifts in and out of the twenty years Guided By Voices raced through their career and collects the bizarrely good, bizarrely bad and questionably pointless guitar-rock Guided By Voices excelled with. It introduces and unites the glorified lo-fi of Bee Thousand
, the underrated professional era of Isolation Drills
and everything surrounding in a way that eases them both onto the newcomer with no bias. Human Amusements
is worth it alone for making twenty-four second blast “Hit” just that.