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Guided By Voices: Earthquake Glue

Album: Earthquake Glue
Label: Matador

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Only in the future, when rock 'n' roll libraries devote full-time curators to Robert Pollard and his flights of fancy both with and without Guided By Voices, will any real sense be made of the former schoolteacher, semi-professional imbiber, and insanely prolific songwriter's body of work. For now, only Ph.D. candidates in Pollardology can possibly have the required time and patience to keep up: Since the last proper GBV full-length, 2002's spotty Universal Truths And Cycles, Pollard has released half a dozen side-project albums of varying quality. The only constant throughout his collaborations is a dizzying lack of consistency. Bright spots abound, but they're often mired in half-hearted filler that does little to uphold Pollard's reputation as a songwriting hero. Good sense would dictate that Pollard save his most commercial material for albums released with his best-known band on a bigger label. But the error inherent in that theory is the assumption that Guided By Voices' best material is its most accessible, since the albums that deified Pollard–the unstoppable Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes–are untamed, fucked-up little beasts. Sure, he writes a hundred great pop melodies a day, but on recent GBV records, he's mostly abandoned the esotericism that makes those records special. The result: Guided By Voices albums have become predictable, a shocking end for a group defined by its surprise delights. Earthquake Glue marks the fourth GBV record in a row that offers relatively straight readings of Pollard's big-Brit-rock vision: Each has a handful of tracks of sheer pop wonder (on Earthquake Glue, it's "My Kind Of Soldier," "The Best Of Jill Hives," and the heartfelt "A Trophy Mule In Particular"), surrounded by a set of good-but-unremarkable tracks. For any other band, that'd probably be enough. But Guided By Voices set its bar too high to settle into the role of solid, reliable, indie-rock elder statesman. There's little doubt that Pollard has more extraordinary music in him. The critical question is whether he can sit still long enough to boost his signal-to-snow ratio.