It took a decade-plus of wading through various levels of denial to come to such a grand conclusion as the one I’ve finally arrived upon today pertaining to Robert Pollard and his Guided by Voices. Most days I still don’t believe it, but today – headphones plugged, pen in hand and time to kill – I’m feeling it, and here it is: Robert Pollard is the Great Songwriter of His Time. Especially when he’s writing and recording for Guided by Voices records. It’s not that all of his songs are perfect, like, say, Leonard Cohen’s pretty much always are. But the man writes, records and releases more material than anyone this side of R. Stevie Moore. And sometimes, here and there, the songs are just so good.
Already a few full-length into his 2012, Pollard is on a run. His first GBV release of this year, January’s reunion record, Let’s Go Eat the Factory, is still my favorite release of the year. And now, only five months later, we have a second proper GBV disc, the hilariously titled Class Clown Spots a UFO.
While Factory’s lo-fi, anything goes recordings reminded quite a bit of early- to mid-90s Guided by Voices releases like Alien Lanes, UFO is a tighter, more accessible batch – reminding a bit of the four GBV albums the band released before they originally called it quits. There are instant pop classics like “Keep It In Motion,” Tobin Sprout’s beautiful “They and Them” and, of course, the wonderfully re-recorded version of the classic title track. But, like Factory or any of the great GBV albums, UFO is a record – made again by the classic GBV line-up – that demands to be played front to back, as a somewhat messy collage of indie rock sub-styles – with most tracks clocking in somewhere near the 90-second mark. Ballads, hard rock, power pop, classic rock, college rock, jangle rock – you name it. Same as it ever was, and all done with Pollard’s and Sprout’s usual scrap and flare.
Okay, so UFO is another good Pollard-related release. His third good – or even great – disc of 2012 so far. But Greatest Songwriter of His Time? Maybe Greatest Song-Maker of His Time? Better. Or maybe Coolest Song-Maker seems most appropriate, as there are most definitely better lyricists and composers kicking around. So here’s the thing: with each of Bob’s releases, you can count on getting at least one new classic track. Classsssssic track. Maybe more than one, but always the one Million Listen Moment. And, for listeners/fans like myself, who have heard hundreds of new albums per year for almost two consecutive decades now, getting that one true classic track feels very rare. (It’s all been done, we heard it all, I smell fish, etc.)
Pollard has made it clear that he takes his GBV releases more seriously than he does any of the albums he puts out under his many, many other monikers. Knowing this, and still buzzing off the blissful Factory, I could not hardly wait to get my hands on the UFO. The broken classics. Each word sung as if it’s part of the greatest hook anyone ever wrote. The diversity. The one-liners. The incredible song titles and always-interesting collage artwork by Bob himself. It’s all here, in top form, spread out over 21 unrelenting tracks of scrappy pop. A record recorded at a sound quality similar to the great Earthquake Glue, but featuring shorter, weirder, more lively tracks. Another big, awesomely messy dish of lazy power-pop and Weird America spirit, courtesy of the Coolest Living Song-Maker, or something.