There are dozens of guys out there who can claim to have spent time, however brief, in Guided By Voices. But it takes only a few seconds of hearing Let’s Go Eat The Factory to recognize the exact right combination of guys who recorded the band’s most beloved records. Saying Factory deserves to be placed in the vaunted company of 1994’s Bee Thousand and 1995’s Alien Lanes would be overselling it a bit. But Robert Pollard’s first album with the so-called “classic” line-up of GBV—Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, Greg Demos, and Kevin Fennell—in 16 years captures a similar mix of in-the-moment inspiration, boozy camaraderie, and unhinged loopiness. As always, not everything works, and at first the unwieldy 21-song Factory seems to hang together as well as beer-soaked cigarettes. But then, like those mid-’90s classics, it starts to make sense as a stunningly scattershot compendium of everything Pollard has ever done well, or at the very least fearlessly attempted.
Pollard remains a songwriting machine, tirelessly turning out tracks for solo album after solo album. For Factory, he wrote with this specific band in mind, and it shows: “The Unsinkable Fats Domino” is the sort of punchy, to-the-point pop song Pollard rarely bothers with anymore, and can still write very well when he’s motivated. “The Head” and “God Loves Us” are rapid-fire toss-offs that boast multiple hooks that come and go in seconds. And the wise-ass witticisms of “How I Met My Mother” and atonal weirdness of “The Big Hat And Toy Show” give Factory that feel of risky spontaneity so vital to the GBV formula. (That also goes for the album’s strangest, prettiest track, “Old Bones,” which sounds like “Auld Lang Syne” sung by a dying android.)
But what really sets Factory apart from all the GBV records made after this line-up disbanded is that it sounds like it was made by a real band, with Sprout back providing crucial support as the George Harrison to Pollard’s Lennon/McCartney. The buzzingly poppy “Waves” is the album’s best song, with Sprout’s distinctively reedy vocals holding steady as the guitars blur by. “Spiderfighter” is almost as good, mashing up a rampaging psych-rocker with a beautifully stark piano ballad. It’s no wonder GBV already has another album in the can due for later this year; Factory finds the band falling into old, glorious habits.