Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

I hate myself for hating Robert Pollard's new albums

I've spent half my life writing up opinions and having them published for the world to see—OK, in the beginning it was just my junior high school—so by now I'm used to the occasional reader hating what I have to say. It's not often though that I hate what I have to say. But that was the case last week when my review of two new Robert Pollard albums appeared in The A.V. Club.

Pollard is one of my musical heroes and all-time favorite songwriters, but I'm not much of a fan of his latest releases Coast To Coast Carpet Of Love (which I marginally praised for a few good tunes) and Standard Gargoyle Decisions (which I flat out panned). Reading over my review before turning it in, I winced at my own words. How could I be this negative about a Robert Pollard record? The man has written some of my favorite songs ever. (My most favoritest being "Game Of Pricks," Don't Stop Now," "Alone, Stinking, and Unafraid," and—at No. 1—"Pop Zeus," with Doug Gillard.) He's made albums I adore with every ounce of my being. (Alien Lanes will forever be firmly entrenched in my personal top five.) And all those piss-drunk GBV shows I attended over the years are among my most treasured memories. (Except the one in Minneapolis that I can't remember.) The review was painful to write and even more painful to read. And yet I couldn't touch a word because it accurately reflected how I felt. My loyalty is to readers, not Robert Pollard, and if people are going to hate my review it should at least be my honest opinion.

Still, it sucks to badmouth your hero in public. It sucks badmouthing anything in print, really. Music and movies and TV shows are intensely personal for the artists that make 'em and the fans that love 'em, and I take no pleasure in pissing all over something that's meaningful to people just because I don't happen to like it. (OK, most of the time I take no pleasure in doing it.) But that's the job—people read to decide whether something is worth their time and money, and the truth hurts sometimes. This time it hurt me, too. I was actually disappointed when most readers agreed with my Pollard review in the comments section, and dismayed when some took it a few steps beyond to talk about how mediocre his recent output has been. (Which, painful or not, I think is pretty much spot on, though From A Compound Eye is growing on me.) As a fan, I wanted to be proven wrong. Instead I was in the position of riling up anti-Pollard sentiment.

But after another week of trying to like the new records and failing miserably, I stand behind what I wrote. And as much as I hate being the guy doing it, Pollard could use some honest criticism. I've met and interviewed Pollard a few times, and he was a pleasure to talk to, but judging from Jim Greer's awful Guided By Voices book Twenty-One Years Of Hunting Accidents In The Forests Of Rock And Roll he's surrounded by sycophants constantly reassuring him everything he writes is brilliant. I think Pollard would benefit greatly from a strong advisor who could say, "Bob, you've written a billion songs—how about finishing one for once?" It's no coincidence that the last true masterpiece Pollard made—2001's Isolation Drills—was also the last time he looked beyond his devoted cult and at least attempted to reach the public at large. He's now reached a point in his career where he can release anything and it will be bought and accepted by a small legion of dedicated fans; part of me is glad and thinks he's earned it, and another part thinks this is the worst thing that could have happened to him. This is one of the great indie rock tunesmiths—he can do better than two records that mostly recycle those overly familiar same-sounding staccato riffs he's been using for the past five years. (Of course Ween—another favorite band of mine—also seems content playing just to its cult of fans, and its latest record La Cucaracha is fabulous. That review is running next week, and it was a lot more fun to write.)

What do you guys think? Is it tough for you to dismiss an album (or movie or book or whatever) you know is bad because you admire its creator so much? Are there any Pollard defenders out there who think I'm off-base? Or am I simply noticing a decline that's been obvious for years?

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