By Guided by Voices
I'd heard Guided By Voices albums are notoriously erratic with songwriter Robert Pollard obviously missing a prominent branch of musicians philosophy best personified by Creedance Clear Water Revivals John Fogerty: "It doesn't make it mo' betta when you add mo' junk".
GBV have a vast discography with Pollard's renowned reputation for being unable to decipher the difference between his own little unpolished masterpieces from trashy practise tapes. Claiming to have written over five hundred songs before he'd even left school Pollard has turned his bands prolific if somewhat consistently erratic output into a band that garners cult following-they may even be considered the kings of lo-fi.
So it perhaps seems a little unusual for these indie oddballs to release a best of, especially when considering they are still going strong and it's also just too late for the marketing men to aim it towards the Christmas wish lists of the lo-fi geeks. That said it's also a blessed relief for people like you and me who are hoping for a whole albums worth of the cream of GBV's vast body of work without having to filter through the gunk.
I hadn't heard this band before and the opening track 'A Salty Salute' with it's lyrics: "The club is open/Yeah, The club is open/Hey, the club is open/A-come on, come on, the club is open" with it's motor driven beats is like an unexpected invite on a night out with a bunch of old friends you haven't seen in a while.
What unravels over these 32 songs is a band that in my mind epitomises old-skool indie: Droning, at times jangling and punchy with lyrics that generally sound ambiguous yet at the same time somehow resonate something quite emotional while being buried deep into the mix of the song.
'I am a tree' is a fantastic guitar driven track with FM friendly hooks and sing-a-long lyrics and perhaps it could have become a mini hit. The same also applies to 'Bulldog skin' and the excellent 'Surgical Focus'. While "Glad Girls" is pure pop, with the line: "Hey, glad girls only want to get you high" repeated countless times.
At times their sound is rather playful and quite comical. The prime example being track 15: 'Hit' sounds truly like it could have lived up to it's name if it didn't seem to start halfway through a complete song and finish in one verse all done probably in one take. It lasts 23 seconds and is synonymously fantastic and ridiculous and I suspect on part of GBV they are being cleverly coy, almost teasing the listener with their pop sensibilities on full display colliding very quickly with their underground leanings. You can almost imagine Pollard saying to the rest of the band: "Shit, if we finish this song we might actually sell some records. STOP!"
While "Captain's Dead" sounds like the Beatles taking a dab stab at punk for a laugh with Lennon insisting on rancid recording sensibilities, it would fit into the White album if it wasn't so bloody primitive.
Generous slabs of fuzzy guitar soak up the dreamy sounding "Tractor rape chain" while "Chasing heather crazy" is the kind of song Fountains of Wayne write in their wet dreams. On "Non-absorbing" I can hear the hiss of a four track with bad harmonies that sound so good, complete with a drum that sounds like it's a dustbin.
I read an interview a number of years ago and Pollard explained that he used to be a Scientist before the band got signed. With this in mind the GBV's high tide mark is the closing track "I Am A Scientist", with it's touching lyrics including:
"I am a pharmacist / Prescriptions I will fill you / Potions, pills and medicines / To ease your painful lives / I am a lost soul / I shoot myself with rock & roll / The hole I dig is bottomless / But nothing else can set me free"
Perhaps this is what mastery of the singer/songwriter category is all about, turning the personal into something universal.
Undoubtedly GBV obsessives out there will bicker on the track selection while the casual listener may get irritated by the haphazardly organised track listing and the tendency for songs to sound like they were recorded warts n' all in one take. There are also a few tracks that as Fogerty suggested could have been left on the shelf however this undoubtedly is part of the fun with GBV's and as an introduction this will suffice for most people.