Album review: Plenty on second album for Guided By Voices fans to enjoy
Remember that early Brad Pitt flick “Cool World”? The one where he was running around, holding a gun and cavorting with cartoons, as if some film exec decided that was a good use of the young Brad Pitt, to put him in the Bob Hoskins role in some kind of warped take on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”
Anyway, that has nothing to do with the new Guided By Voices album, other than the similar-sounding title — “Cool Planet.” Although, come to think of it, there is a certain cartoonishness to Robert Pollard and his merry (read: famously drunken) band of started-out-old-and-now-they’re-really-old rock ’n’ roll peddlers. It’s in the goofy song titles and lyrics, the silly pants the bass player wears at every gig, the out-there collage artwork that Pollard adorns his albums with and the brevity and regularity of the songs the GBV machine churns out. They’re short tunes — usually in the 30-second to two-minute zone, and there’s a ton of them on each album. Looney tunes, they are.
“Cool Planet” is the second GBV offering of 2014, and it’s probably not the last. This is the way Pollard works — he releases his every last bit of musical creativity, like he lacks the filters that most songwriters possess. He doesn’t save the good stuff for his higher-profile GBV releases. Learning this is vital to understanding Pollard’s music — you have to separate the wheat from the chaff yourself. He’s not doing it for you.
Out of the gate, “Authoritarian Zoo” presents Pollard’s shaky, possibly drunken vocal on top of a bouncy Cheap Trick guitar bed. His pitchiness, ever present, threatens to ruin the whole song before it even gets off the ground, and then, suddenly, the band explodes into an anthemic chorus to rival many of Pollard’s best.
“Time out for screaming / they’re not willing to compromise,” Pollard sings. “Go running, ’cause they’re gunning for you / authoritarian zoo.” It’s not completely non-sequitur like many of his lyrics are, and this helps the song sound like a kind of “fight the power” fist-pumper.
Of course, then the album immediately takes a dive into several ballads, which is such a Pollard thing to do. “Costume Makes the Man” is the best of these, with a mournful organ and acoustic guitar behind Pollard’s lyrics about “losing one’s head.”
There are some excellent rock songs on the album, despite the early detour into Ballad City.
“Hat of Flames” and “Table at Fool’s Tooth” could have easily appeared on any of the band’s ’90s classics. “Bad Love is Easy to Do” and “Males of Wormwood Mars” sound more modern, partially due to the competent drumming of recent addition Kevin March.
Guitarist Tobin Sprout takes the lead vocal on his compositions, as usual. There are a handful of them, here, though none of them are as good as the ones he’s sprinkled throughout the recent GBV releases. The piano bridge of “All-American Boy” is one of the best moments of the album, however.
All told, “Cool Planet” is another sturdy ship in the band’s vast navy of albums. Fans should find lots to like here, and non-fans will find as much weirdness and gleeful amateurism as ever. Another day on planet GBV.
Guided By Voices / “Cool Planet”
Produced by: Guided By Voices
Personnel: Robert Pollard (vocals), Tobin Sprout
(vocals/guitar), Mitch Mitchell (guitar), Greg Demos (bass), Kevin March (drums)
Listen to “Bad Love is Easy to Do”
Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.