2011 may very well be remembered in music history as the year of re-unions, as we witnessed (amongst others) the likes of Pulp, The Darkness and even The Stone Roses getting back together. But Guided by Voices have bucked the trend by actually releasing an album, and in double quick time as well one might add, with a follow up entitled Class Clown Spots A UFO already pencilled in for later this year.
Guided by Voices’ original lineup split up in 1996, and Under the Bushes Under the Stars of that year was consequently the band’s last great album. Given frontman Robert Pollard’s insane recording output since then (twenty one solo albums prolific much?), which at its best has erred on the side of good rather than great, it was a genuine worry whether he would actually have any great songs left. Thankfully then tracks like ‘Laundry And Lasers’, ‘The Unsinkable Fats Domino’ and ‘Doughnut For A Snowman’ all step up to the mark, while standout song ‘Chocolate Boy’ would not have felt at all out of place on GBV’s very best albums, even despite it’s slightly more polished production. Sadly though it remains an album that suffers from the motif of ‘would have been better if it was shorter’, and although nothing on here is strictly bad a few moments make it feel like the twenty-one song tracklist was more to do with keeping with tradition rather than Pollard thinking he had that many great songs.
The album is a return to the lo-fi 4 track sound that the band pioneered so well in the ‘90s, but even if that is the overall production picture there are still noticeable stylistic deviations throughout. The aforementioned ‘Chocolate Boy’ with its vibrant guitars, background synth and catchy pop melody is all set against the bluesy psychedelic jam of ‘The Big Hat And Toy Show’, which sounds for all the world like an improvised number as Pollard yelps incomprehensibly over the top of the guitars. Beyond that there is also more experimentation with their traditional instrumentation, as a sombre piano section make an appearance towards the end of ‘Spiderfighter’ and strings dominate ‘Hang Mr. Kite’ almost entirely.
It all makes for an eclectic album that feels in one sense like a self contained overview of the band’s five classic era albums and beyond. Let’s Go Eat The Factory might look like a bit of a jumbled mess on the surface as it hops rapidly between greatly varying tracks that rarely break the two minute mark, but it’s more organised chaos than anything else, and whereas recent albums like Earthquake Glue have felt unnecessarily forced into sounding musically progressive, everything here fits pretty neatly into place. Factory was realistically never going to replicate the song quality of the GBV magnum opera, but for a comeback album it shows a band finding their feet again with surprising speed and ease. Even with its faults it’s certainly their best record since the break-up in 1996, and that bodes very well for Class Clown Spots A UFO.
Review by Tom Eves