The Crawling Distance
Guided by Voices
1 out of 5 stars
Robert Pollard is one of the most prolific recorded musicians in history, with over 1,000 songs to his name. Not counting side projects, he has released six albums in the past two years alone. Someone should tell him to take a vacation, because his haste might have led to the waste of disc space that is The Crawling Distance.
Pollard’s best work was in the ’90s with his legendary band Guided by Voices, which garnered a wealth of popular and critical recognition. In the interceding years, it’s understandable that the indie stalwart may have lost a measure of vitality. No surprise, then, that his latest songs ring hollow.
The Crawling Distance shares much in common with Pollard’s earlier compositions. Simple, lo-fi, 4/4-time guitar pop is his preferred mode of expression. One difference is that both his oddball lyrics and faux-British accent have become more prominent — and annoying — than ever before. On this album, pretension and boredom meet like star-crossed lovers.
Right from the opening track, “Faking My Harlequin,” it’s clear that something is amiss. The shiny guitar chords and metronomic beats are inoffensive enough on their own, but Pollard’s timid warbling sounds out of place. His raw and eccentric vocals clash with the polished yet bland instrumental elements. And his endless refrain of, “It’s just my luck, yeah,” is hardly inspiring.
“Cave Zone” manages to be spectacularly worse. Its plodding two-chord verses are monotonous, and the brain-dead lyrics are alienating. Perhaps the most laughable stanza is: “Come on, come on stop trying to page me on the phone / Come on, come on stop trying to break me won’t you / take me to my cave zone.” By the end of the song, all that is clear is that Pollard immensely enjoys yelling the words, “cave zone.”
The more cheery “The Butler Stands For All of Us” suffers from an entirely different set of problems. Cloyingly optimistic, its ’70s AM radio warmth dampens the composition’s impact. Like a senile guru, Pollard dispenses such useless advice as, “It pays to know who you are / ‘cause that’s who you are,” and more obscurely, “Ease off on your querulous side-kicks / stop lurking behind them.”
But the atrocities don’t end there. “It’s Easy” sleepwalks through a nursery-rhyme melody and Pollard’s band plays without enthusiasm. As an added bonus, the track contains the album’s most deliciously awful lyric: “Safe and please us / tax-exempt with touchdown Jesus.”
The Crawling Distance’s litany of flaws is almost comical. Not only does Pollard pen insular and silly lyrics, he sings them in an affected British whimper. His band handles boring chord progressions with mechanical lameness. The disc’s songs lack dynamic thrust, failing to properly crescendo or climax. And the minimal, dry production simply augments its other failings.
When an album doesn’t inspire emotion, contemplation, imagination or even the simple urge to dance, the musicians have done their listeners a great disservice. Pollard’s latest lark achieves that rare distinction; The Crawling Distance is worthless.