Guided By Voices, Inc.
3.5 out of 5 stars
It’s hard not to write off Brown Submarine as another installment in Robert Pollard’s seemingly infinite string of vanity projects. As prolific as he’s always been, Pollard’s output has never approached the type of eclectic stylistic diversity that would require him to assemble a new “band” to record with multiple times a year. But that’s exactly what he’s done since the waning days, and eventual retirement, of Guided By Voices. Luckily, he’s such a genius of creating band names, song titles and album covers that his function as (essentially) a half-dozen bands at once has yet to grow stale.
So now we welcome Boston Spaceships to Pollard’s nonexclusive roster. Their existence isn’t completely superfluous, but it’s far from important.
Don’t be fooled. Boston Spaceships — in both their approach and music — break no new ground. The recording process, in which Pollard sent his demos to his “band,” who then sent full treatment recordings back to Pollard to receive vocals, is not novel. Pollard and Guided By Voices’s short tenured bassist Chris Slusarenko have used this method twice before as The Takeovers. Now, Slusarenko is joined by Decemberists drummer John Moen to form the new “band.” So Brown Submarine isn’t special. It’s just a collection of 14 new songs.
Fortunately, however, Pollard’s typically energetic spark wasn’t lost in translation in the mail-order make-an-album scheme this time around. As if anyone’s surprised, Brown Submarine squeezes disparate characteristics of power pop, British invasion, prog and psychedelia into not-so-hi-fi vignettes that try their damndest to squeeze under the two-minute barrier. If the record has any defining attributes, they’re its nearly unchecked affinity for speedy tempos and guitar-centric mixes that call to memory the “Guided By Verde” incarnations of Guided By Voices. But Submarine is really just more of the same old Bob.
“Winston’s Atomic Bird” jumpstarts the record just like any classic Pollard opener, teasing straightforward guitar pop before veering sideways with predictably unpredictable prog melodies that give legitimate ’70s decadence exercises serious competition. Dirgy darkness and acoustic guitars get a quick cameo on title track “Brown Submarine,” but in less than 90 seconds, they give way to a serious contender for Pollard’s best song this year.
“You Satisfy Me” won’t win any awards for most original love song (the title sums up its subject matter succinctly), but it’s a blissfully peppy and inviting serenade presumably directed at Pollard’s new wife. If the fact that he dedicated three whole minutes to the song isn’t a convincing enough statement that he actually loves his new catch, use Google to find Pollard’s outrageously harrowing account of the vasectomy reversal he underwent before the nuptials. That’s love.
Meanwhile, the hyper singalong “Ready to Pop” (“She’s so my size / She’s so my size / She’s so my size” ad nauseum) and riff’n’mantra “Psych Threat” (more or less a speed-spiked “Hot Freaks”) are vintage Pollard scoring with his old tricks again.
Reviewing Pollard has become a redundant task. Reiterating four to five times a year that Bob will be Bob and the resulting album will be worthwhile is unnecessary. And while Boston Spaceships’s debut Brown Submarine isn’t immediately distinguishable from any other body in the Bob-o-sphere, apparently the project piqued something in Pollard; after a few-year hiatus, Bob has decided to hit the road again with his new band. Brown Submarine’s legacy will be that it resurrected Pollard’s Miller-Lite-saturated Roger Daltry touring persona, and that’s cause to celebrate.