Review Summary: I've come over here again just to know you..
It seems nowadays like every other new Guided by Voices release arrives with a whole pack of ‘re-‘ adjectives sewn in – rejuvenated, renewed, reinvigorated, revived, reborn. Given that the average age of established indie music critics mirrors that of Robert Pollard, it’s an understandable tack. The bulk of them grew up on his music, wore the T-shirts, bopped at the shows, wore the records down to a flush plate. We all love a comeback and we love it even more when they happen to affable anti-heroes like Pollard. Except this time around, it isn’t half-latria and half-wishful thinking.
How Do You Spell Heaven
rocks, roils and springs; keen, brawny and alert, Pollard’s voice like an ageless spitfire crashing through the meaty arrangements. The absence of his main abettor and oldest collaborator Tobin Sprout doesn’t loom nearly as large over Heaven
as it has on past GBV albums. Most everything here falls into place in grand fashion. The backing band Pollard had assembled for August by Cake
earlier this year are back, and they’ve obviously had time to gestate and acquaint. Looser and tighter in all the ways it counts, the songs on Heaven
run through you like impish shafts of light, sodden in cold beer and summer sweat.
Pollard walks out all his old ascendancy ghosts. “Cretinous Number Ones” and “Pearly Gate Smoke Machine” sport both those mystically obtuse titles and that thickset, storming The Who-esque riffing. “Diver Dan” flings you back to the 90’s with such genial aplomb, you’ll feel dizzy with Benetton ads and Roos sneakers that had that side pocket you could keep your stash in. “Low Flying Perfection” is a frothy mid-tempo marvel. And closer “Just to Show You” is as boisterous as it is elegantly plaintive, down to the poppy woo’s that round up Pollard’s mantra. Spilling over with that patented ragged charm, it’s the best and most effortless song he has put to record in years and years.
Best of all, none of it seems as stiff-jointed or compulsory as their past rebounds. If you had to rifle through The Bears for Lunch
and Cool Planet
to get to the songs that would deck out your GBV B-list, the best here easily stacks up with the finest moments of their run through the second half of the 90’s. Most importantly, Heaven
plays as a brashly assured record in its whole. Subsequently, the true highlights of Heaven
become strongpoints outside the context of Guided by Voices, their crazed output rates or wobbly praxes in the cutting room. These are great songs. They make a great album.
The better parts of GBV’s catalogue always came with a built-in ‘fly in the ointment’ clause - you had to cut and sift through a third of clutter to get the payoff, the songs that filled your chest and made you feel boundless and lost. Against all odds, mostly imposed by his own self, Pollard seems to have done it again.