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"
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.