Robert Pollard – of Guided By Voices fame – has been responsible for his fair share of must-have, genre-defining albums. He’s also put out more mildly satisfying, inessential discs than an average abacus whiz can count. Not to suggest that Pollard doesn’t matter anymore, but the point here is that Bee Thousand could’ve been the last thing most of us ever heard from him and we’d still piss off our roommates by day with its abrasive lo-fi drone.

At this stage, the fact that Pollard will put out at least four albums this year under one guise or another is about as foregone a conclusion as fringe religious fanatics setting up camp on the Diag again before the end of the semester. He’s undeniably prolific – a quality he seems to enjoy and that his rabid followers certainly appreciate – and since nobody else is really paying attention, why shouldn’t he put out a record like Superman Was a Rocker, where he has overdubbed new vocals onto old, dust-collecting instrumental recordings. It’s an album of unheard material. Everyone’s happy.

But maybe calling Superman Was a Rocker an “album” is a bit misleading. Pollard himself styles it a “mini-album,” which is fine, but maybe “half-album” fits more comfortably. It’s just 13 tracks (short by his standards), recorded over the span of three decades and beefed up with frequent interjections of radio station banter. Half length, half effort, half music: half album.

That shouldn’t be a deterrent, though, but an indicator of how little Pollard must do to get a worthwhile release out. Having basically made a career out of a band and a tape recorder, Pollard now takes that approach to an almost absurd realization and still manages to squeeze out a few murky, deconstructed pop-rock gems like “Go Down First” and “Substitute Heaven.”

After Pollard and his cohorts nonchalantly fend off insults from an unamused radio listener, “Back to the Farm” suddenly becomes a gorgeous (a rare word in Pollard-land) instrumental. Amazing what can happen with professional recording equipment and a couple acoustic guitars. The same guitar pattern shows up again, this time with amps and vocals, on the sublime “Love Your Spaceman.”

There’s the requisite filler here, too, but anyone willing to listen isn’t likely to see it as that. And of course, none of the songs last long enough, because that extra two minutes of recording time would mean one fewer song Pollard could write.

If the best material from Pollard’s last half-dozen years was saved up and distilled into a couple discs, you’d have a couple killer albums. And if you compiled a book of reviews of every record he’s ever put out, you’d have a pretty robust volume of rock criticism. So what? Obviously, neither should happen and neither will. Those willing to sift through his ever-increasing torrent of material will continue to cherish the small triumphs they find within. And those who aren’t will never know that pleasure.

Rating: 2 and 1/2 out of 5 stars
Robert Pollard
Superman Was a Rocker
Happy Jack Rock

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