Review Summary: come with me and count the years Pollard has broken my silly heart.
We know how this goes. Some of us are Guided By Voices fanatics, nodding righteously to records far and beyond Bee Thousand
and Alien Lanes
, lacking the backbone to stop Pollard from wobbling along the stage, beer in hand, six 2010 records on the merch table. That is, those of us in denial. We’ll try out everything Pollard does, and even if he’s indie pop’s extrovert, sometimes we’ll just be left wondering if this stuff was for him, more than anything. Relaxation of the Asshole
, his ‘comedy’ album, was Pollard talking to himself, mostly. Some of us are just fans, taking classic GBV for what it is and not daring to move beyond it. That’s generally a safer, more cost-effective way to live: some of Pollard’s solo records feel like an attempt at bringing his lo-fi pop genius into the 21st century, and when that happens as it did on 2009’s crushing Elephant Jokes
, I sort of wish I was just a fan. Even though we’ll get a gem now and then, it’s usually because it’s Pollard not being Pollard, such as on Off to Business
. Otherwise, his solo output swings teasingly at its fans, now reaching its sixteenth release discounting a slew of side-projects, trying to get everyone involved. Space City Kicks
feels like another album to add to that buzzing noise of Pollard’s that dares
us. And with last year’s reunion of classic GBV, we’re all
Of course, at this point, it sort of feels trivial to swing back. Pollard’s records are out there, and we can look away or allow ourselves to be pulled in. If we choose the latter, we’ll find Pollard fondly remembering the past every day of the year. And we’ll find him trying to keep it as the present: most of Space City Kicks
sounds like Under the Bushes
era GBV, which is to say, flattened out, better-produced duplicates of songs like “Game of Pricks.” Under the Bushes
was a great record because it was the first GBV record to rationalise their lo-fi indie rock and make it as accessible as it was emotional. But Space City Kicks
is about the thirtieth record to do it: “Woman To Fly,” a song that takes the oddball nature of Pollard and forces structure upon it, has been done a hundred times by now. In places, Pollard sounds even more nostalgic than usual, such as the carbon copy “I Wanna Be Your Man on the Moon,” a track so reminiscent of that ’96 record that it’s near painful to listen to. As is the semi-eerie guitar work of “Blowing Like a Sunspot”- it’s so huge a throwback, hitting the exact same spot so efficiently
, that it makes Space City Kicks
more distracting to listen to than anything. It’s as if Pollard has finally lost it, unable to occasionally pick on new moments or just lesser known old ones.
That’s something that a fanatic could always argue in favour of when we sat through Elephant Jokes
and got a snippet of genius, but Space City Kicks
feels like the final straw, as if Pollard promised us “another Bee Thousands/Alien Lanes/Under The Bushes
,” as musicians are so prone to, and became the first musician to make such a promise come true. It’s not so: those albums had boundless energy driving them, with songs bouncing off the walls like “Game Of Pricks” did. On Space City Kicks
there’s that second quality we’ve come to know in Pollard, that lifelessness in which songs refuse to bounce off walls. There’s no energy in title track “Space City Kicks” as it chugs along as just another track of eighteen. There’s nothing sly and cunning about tracks that try to be, such as the similarly abrasive guitar-work of “Picture A Star.” In fact, every guitar strum on this guitar, regardless of whether its loud and obnoxious (“Children Ships”) or an attempt at contemplative Pollard on “Woman To Fly,” feels ripped off. Not ripped off in the way Pollard and Sprout used to rip off R.E.M., either; that was so much fun, with so much mood and excitement tapped into on every tribute to Murmur
, whereas Space City Kicks
, the upteempth Pollard album, has nothing riding on it but its number. This is entirely unexciting indie pop, trying but failing to grasp at that off-the-walls Pollard persona.
There’s an excuse us fanatics would make for all of this: that this is just for Pollard, something to play back to himself to remind himself that he’s still got it and that he still creates snippets of songs like “Something Strawberry.” But it’s obvious to me now that we’ve all actually listened to these records, and that Pollard has devoured the brain of every dumb GBV geek. It’s not that Pollard is killing his career because this isn’t his career anymore. Music is his first love, as shown through the joy he spreads on a good live show. It’s not that Space City Kicks
or the fifteen albums before it do any real damage to his classic output. It’s just we know there’s more to this guy than this sluggish, lifeless material. And we can say it’s a pick and choose thing with six plus records every year, but I’d rather a good album than six bad ones. Space City Kicks
is, I’m going to assume, the first of many to avoid in 2011.