In a decade or two of very awesome ideas in indie rock, one of the best also has the least to do with music. It’s chronicled in the to-do list of Stephen Malkmus, and if it turns out that he doesn’t have one, I’m fairly sure these are the bullet-points: firstly, write some music. There’s no outlet better for a guy who still speaks in riddles after all these years. Secondly, don’t release another Pavement album. The live reunion, yes, that’s inevitable for such a legendary band, but Malkmus recognises his riddles are no longer Crooked Rain
riddles, not by a long way: you have to write as if you don’t really care about writing to make “Range Life,” backhanded even if it was immaculately crafted. His lack of temptation to do it again- to be the casual genius only unlocked by Pavement- is kinda commendable in my eyes. He’s not arguing against how much he bloody well was
Pavement. He’s just aware there’s no need to assert that anymore, because, well, being one thing doesn’t necessarily mean being it forever.
Robert Pollard is not Stephen Malkmus, sadly.
I’m not bringing this up to start a band vs. band argument, especially as Guided by Voices occupy that favourite band hall of fame in my sweet little head. But as far as reunions go, here’s one that shouldn’t have happened, and here's the exact reason Stephen Malkmus got it right. Robert Pollard has billed Let’s Go Eat The Factory
as a reunion album, a new era straight from the old era, one that brings the ‘classic line-up’ back together like a doting indie commune. What it is in reality, however, is far from that beautiful hippy image: this is just another moment of self-indulgence from a man with too much of his own stuff going on in his life anyway, all of it music. This is an album that marginalizes its most exciting aspect, the return of Pollard’s long-time companion Tobin Sprout, and ignores the return of old friends Mitch Mitchell and Greg Demos entirely. This isn’t a reunion album anymore than tacking the name on with four different guys would be. Rather, it’s Pollard’s declaration that this band is, through it all, his own. And god, what a mistake that is.
Because you have to wonder what happened to tear apart Pollard and Sprout here, why exactly their connection has gone so wrong. It’s not a partnership anymore, and I guess that’s another thing on this long list of inevitabilities I don’t want to face. That’s all Guided By Voices really are on this record- a band of crappy lists, a competing arena for a Pollard counting wins off of songs. It’s a game only Uncle Bob is playing, of course, and whatever little flag of jangle-pop pride Sprout is proudly waving on Let’s Go Eat The Factory
is burnt to a crisp by the misguided leadership of his friend the jock. It’s a record in which Pollard trades personalities with himself obsessively, back and forth between the days when he was obnoxious as hell- the award goes to any number of his solo records- and those where he was just plain tedious. Sprout will remember fewer of those days than the line-up that informed Pollard’s late GBV records, of course, and so with him having a firm grasp on one of the band’s records for the first time in years, he shows up his dull and blocky counterpart a hundred times over.
In fact, for ten tiny minutes, Sprout finds a way to kick the ass out of Let’s Go Eat The Factory
. He still has a Peter Gabriel quality (which, fittingly, would make Pollard Phil Collins in this particular Greek tragedy) that gets him to making a track as creepy and nostalgia-manipulative as “Old Bones.” He can also still write the odd R.E.M. throwback track- the advantage here being that these are consequentially worthy GBV throwbacks- and so “Waves” propels ever forward like a sweet, twee moment amidst the joylessness of Robert Pollard’s falling over and getting up again. Those ten minutes are a welcome distraction, but they’re hampered regardless by the time Pollard spends on Let’s Go Eat The Factory
stumbling over himself. He starts doing it literally enough by the time “Cyclone Utilities” has bumped by, but the dents in the road Pollard prides himself in are no longer the warped fantasies they were. I guess, really, it’s as simple as it not being 1993 anymore. “Go Rolling Home” and “The Room Taking Shape,” are typical GBV snippet songs, dedicated to using the hook once lest it be overused. It’s only that the hook doesn’t emerge for those thirty seconds, and as I get all clingy over indie rock for the umpteenth time, I just wish I could be moved by this.
As he stumbles from place to place thirty seconds at a time, I can’t help but feel Pollard is to blame for the devastating, non tear-jerker, non-anything
of an album Let’s Go Eat The Factory
ends up being. It looks into endless possibilities and takes twenty-one left turns in all, moving unexplained from eerie spoken word to dissonant piano play, and yet it plays out so predictable that Mitchell and Demos- surely innocent parties in all of this- are probably wondering when “Chicken Blows” is going to crack up the room. To be this predictable while moving with such stylistic abandon seems impossible. Hell, it was Guided By Voices who made it seem impossible in the first place; who could be boring with so much going on? On Let’s Go Eat The Factory
, each stylistic move feels like a cheap gimmick, something Pollard would give over to an unexciting, unsurprising solo album. “The Big Hat and Toy Show” might sound like nothing else on Let’s Go Eat The Factory
, but that does not make its inclusion worthy or daring. It makes the album feel like it was made in the dark with no understanding of how Bee Thousand
got moody or how Alien Lanes
embraced its flaws. Instead, the mood is uninterested and the flaw is shi
I’m aware, of course, that Let’s Go Eat The Factory
will be awesome and explainable to other GBV nerds, or if it isn’t- which is more likely- it won’t matter anyway. You can’t tarnish a legacy set in stone on its own merits (or in this band’s world, on quirks), a fact that Pollard has well enough proved without this record. I hated Space City Kicks
, but it didn’t detract from my belief that Pollard is some brand of mad-scientist genius. And so all this might not speak with as much praise to Malkmus’ decision, because he might have fun with another Pavement record. That’s all Pollard is doing at the end of all this, even if it just seems like one ridiculous tease to the rest of us: to get the gang back together, to release your cult indie band’s first record in eight years, all of it for belly laughs aplenty. The LP comeback of Guided By Voices makes no difference, it won’t make any difference in the summer, and so it’s not on the scale of music’s biggest mistakes. It’s not a Metal Machine Music
, but only because it’s too unremarkable. It’s not Chelsea Girl
ruined by flutes, because Pollard wanted
all those awful guitar noises. Here, instead, is a bad album not doomed to be one in history. It’s just a sludgy, grumpy record from a band who once knew pop music needed whimsy. Is it the classic line-up's fault they aren’t all that classic anymore? Mainly, it’s just Pollard’s, Pollard with his grump on, stomping angrily on the status quo as Sprout outshines him in his ten minute segment. How dull, Bob. What a boring record, and what an indie mistake.