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by AjD

Buy Under the Bushes, Under the Stars

When you're living in a town about as far as you can get from the starmaking machinery and alluvasudden you're being hailed as the great hero of the music world, allovasudden you're the biggest guy in town.

It's kinda' the dweeb's fantasy, no? Like, you're the kid everybody mocks; nobody wants your band in their bars, and they kick you outta amateur night. And then you start proving all those dickweeds wrong by being loved in the big cities that everybody else only knows from what they see on teevee. You proved 'em wrong, didn'cha? They're wrong 'cause they didn't like what you did.

Yeah, well, it's usually the case. There are a gazillion bands in a gazillion bars in America, and most of them are playing Rolling Stones covers. I dunno -- maybe these days they're playing Pearl Jam covers. The hometown boys who don't wanna do that aren't loved where they live; they've gotta be the alien force received by the big cities, or at least the cool ones.

Yer radio stations don't help. They only play the tunes that the big city stations play. And they get their programming lists from CMJ or Billboard or whatever insider tipsheet that doubles as contemporary payola these days. So you don't get the hometown media confirming whatever hometown success you might achieve. And your hometown antagonists are only gonna believe what they see on teevee. Maybe "People" Magazine.

Guided by Voices has been pushing through this sort of sludge for about a decade. Mostly doing tunes by Robert Pollard, who paid the rent by teaching High School classes. They did the four-track-recorder-in-the-basement thing, as well as the band's-first-gig-in-a-REAL-studio thing, and all the rest. For the most part, very little of what they did sucked. Their songs get in, make the point, and get out again. A lot of them are a minute and a half long. Or less. You got your money's worth out of an album: eighteen to twenty songs per record, easy.

The briefness worked to their advantage. Since the songs were so short, there wasn't enough time for more than a couple verses and a hooky chorus. No worries about padding with extensive guitar solos.

I guess the downside would be that they didn't have the confidence to take any particular song and stretch it out and experiment with themes and suchlike. But since the songs were so swingin' and the tunes so varied that it didn't matter much. Any band that could ship a few dozen distinct and original tunes a year, no matter how long they were, had the marks of mad genius.

So now that the Lads of Ohio have a batch of records and a boxed retrospective set and a sheaf of critical acclaim on their resume, and a new 'indy' label that's owned by a major record company (ensuring distribution to shopping malls accross the nation), they came out with another record. And it's nice. Lots of good tunes on it. Robert left his teaching job to be a full-time rock'n'roller. But it's just lacking somehow. It's missing that touch. The sense of danger or gameplaying isn't there this time.

See, they're stretching out. The tunes are longer now. Some of 'em close in on four minutes. Not one of 'em is under a minute and a half. I think they're getting comfortable. They even get a buncha' guest musicians kicking in with guitar solos and various other noises. I dunno. It's nice enough, it just feels staid somehow.

Y'can't accuse ol' Bob Pollard of shirking his duties. The lyrics are as oblique and hummable as always. And you've still gotta spin the disk a few times to get a handle on what's going on. Hell, the first track kicks right out with the band cranking full-on, sounding like they started before the tape was rolling. It takes a few moments for the wall of noise to resolve into a band.

You can't really accuse them of getting slick. Bob sings nearly-on-key through the single-of-choice (The Official Ironmen Rally Song), and the band isn't sloppy, not sloppier than usual anyway. I guess that the idea of GbV having a single for radio play is just weird. Their tunes are little shreds of pop music bliss, but they always seem to work better when there are a buncha' them piled back to back.

The entire album is a money's worth of length. It's got more hooks than a stack of top-forty singles. It'll induce periodic craving of replays to track down that little catch of verses you've been singing in the shower. It has strength and fortitude. It has the power and will to beat down the townies playing Green Day over and over again. It's still kinda' a letdown, though.

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