Release Date: Jun 12, 2012
Record label: Guided by Voices
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Ah, Guided By Voices, where to begin? Their 1983 birth in Dayton, Ohio? Its legendary three-classic LP run of Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, and Under the Bushes Under the Stars? Robert Pollard’s prolific output? The “classic lineup” reunion for Matador’s 21st birthday party in Vegas? Or on this very LP, Class Clown Spots a UFO, their 18th proper studio effort? Really all of those things can be combined and are worth a mention when talking about, taking in, or explaining Class Clown Spots a UFO. The classic lineup’s been reunited and going strong, this is its strongest release since that classic three-LP run, Pollard’s finally back at the top of his game, and the band’s held onto its Midwest roots and still manage to sound fresh and vital. Make no mistake, Class Clown Spots a UFO is a classic Guided By Voices record, with brief songs that almost seem fragmented until you realize how complete they actually are, never lacking passion or honesty.
Guided By VoicesClass Clown Spots A UFO[Guided By Voices Inc.; 2012]By Ryan Stanley; October 11, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetIs there some kind of tally on how many times a collection of Guided By Voices songs has been called slipshod? And, more importantly, does anybody even care anymore? Slipshod has pretty much been the legendary group's M.O. for two decades now, and all signs point to mastermind Robert Pollard preferring it that way. And why shouldn’t he? The frenetic, jumpy pacing, almost improvisational mood, and rampant, rampant inconsistency are all part of what makes a Guided By Voices record a Guided By Voices record.
Well, when it rains, it pours: After an eight-year dry spell, the reunited Guided by Voices are flooding fans with three full-lengths this year. Class Clown is the middle one, and like all GBV releases, it is a mishmash of melodic, A-side-worthy compositions (the acoustic, clear-headed “Forever Until It Breaks”; the contemplative, hushed “Be Impeccable”) and half-formed snippets (the cacophonous, headachy “Worm w/7 Broken Hearts”; the aptly titled but nonetheless endearing “Lost in Space”). One of the album’s three formal singles, “Keep It In Motion”—which also came out as an EP earlier this year—finds frontman Robert Pollard calling out the title phrase over a drum machine as if he were a Pilates instructor… A 54-year-old, pot-bellied, white-haired, probably drunk Pilates instructor.
Deep into Guided by Voices' second reunion LP, Class Clown Spots a UFO, Bob Pollard makes an out-of-character suggestion: "be impeccable." Whoever he's talking to, it's not himself. Pollard, long prone to spiking even his most gloriously imperfect songs with out-there choruses, waves of static, and commercial prospect-shattering titles like "Game of Pricks", is not our foremost expert in matters of the immaculate. January's Let's Go Eat the Factory, the strange, spotty comeback album from GBV's "classic era" lineup, could've doubled down on Bob's back-bleacher arena-rockers or Tobin Sprout's tucked-in power-poppers, possibly earning them some new fans.
Following a 2004 breakup, Ohio lo-fi gods Guided by Voices re-formed to release January 2012's Let's Go Eat the Factory. The (no exaggeration) 13 Bob Pollard solo records and countless side-project recordings that came out during that eight-year hiatus might have weakened the impact of an in-name-only Guided by Voices reunion, but not only did the band return in a "Bob Pollard and some other dudes" form of GBV, but as their classic 1993-1996 lineup featuring co-songwriter Tobin Sprout and longtime collaborator Greg Demos. Not even six months following the return to form of that album comes Class Clown Spots a UFO, another 21-song collection of the kind of slapdash '60s-influenced two-minute pop songs the band was spitting out in its heyday.
This whole Guided By Voices reunion thing has been curious from the beginning. What started as a set of shows from the "classic" line-up-- another reunion tour that both gives us a great rock band and smartly cashes in on nostalgia-- has now (at least for the moment) turned into a studio-only project. In other words, it's become another of Robert Pollard's myriad of projects.
It's the dead of night outside two adjoining quiet suburban houses. A 1930 Ford Model A pulls up and rattles off a warning round into some trees (a fox is struck in its tail by mistake and is forced from its dustbin restaurant whimpering). The passenger window is jerkily unwound a bit. A bid to shuffle a loud hailer out of the gap is attempted, aborted, muttered about, intermittently and mistakenly through the loud hailer, at which point a light comes on in one of the houses.
It's difficult to put a new Guided By Voices album into context these days. Robert Pollard has established a particular context of his own, individualistic and idiosyncratic as it may be. All jokes about Pollard's incredible productivity aside, suffice it to say that Class Clown Spots a UFO is the newly re-formed GBV's second album of 2012. And it's not as good as the first.
The reunion is over. No, Guided by Voices haven’t broken up again. This is still the group of five men who once played music together for a string of important albums in the ’90s, but the sheen of a classic GBV unit reconvening for a brand-new album (January’s Let’s Go Eat the Factory) and tour has largely washed away. The gleam messed with our perception a bit, as the drink no doubt messes with singer/songwriter Robert Pollard’s during every live performance.
Having quickly rediscovered Robert Pollard’s artistic mojo and democratic credentials through the likeable and inventive Let’s Go Eat The Factory LP earlier this year, the reformed early-‘90s line-up of Guided By Voices returns rapidly to keep the creative camaraderie momentum rolling. And roll Class Clown Spots A UFO certainly does. Whereas its predecessor was tentative in rebuilding the GBV brand – perhaps fearing a post-reunion sophomore slump by over-delivering too soon – this sequel is a much more assured, rounded and relaxed affair.