Release Date: Dec 10, 2013
Record label: Guided by Voices
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Indie Pop
In the advance publicity for Robert Pollard's album Blazing Gentlemen (only the second solo effort he would release in 2013), the once and future Guided by Voices leader and tireless tunesmith declared that with this set, he "finally figured out how to write a song after 55 years. " In this case, what that really means is that Pollard finally settled on a set songwriting technique that he applied to all 16 tunes on this album: he would hit upon a good idea for a title from overheard conversations, common phrases, or lines from movies or TV shows, and then let that title dictate the shape and content of the lyrics, after which Pollard would match them to a melody. A quick spin of Blazing Gentlemen suggests that Pollard now lives in a world where everyone and everything communicates in a manner that recalls the surreal wordplay of the literally thousands of songs he's written since the mid-'80s, since the tunes on Blazing Gentlemen don't sound especially different from his usual work.
Honey Locust Honky Tonk was far from the only record Robert Pollard put out this year, but it was the most notable. It was excellent top to bottom, which surprised coming from a man who will willfully go weird on the second (or first) half of a record. But it also condensed all Pollard’s oddball pop genius into one intricate yet potent dose. The layers were thick but sweet, the songs clever as always, but also deeply affecting.
No one can accuse Robert Pollard of slacking off. The singer and songwriter is capping off the year with his 10th full-length album since 2011: four with Guided by Voices and six on his own. That Pollard is prolific is without question, but he is perhaps too prolific—or at least not choosy enough about the songs he’s including. Pollard has demonstrated his pop instincts over and over in a career stretching back more than 25 years, showing a particular affinity for setting fully formed, insidiously catchy songs alongside weird sketches and fragments that stand perfectly well on their own.
If there's anything like a normal year for Bob Pollard fans, 2013 wasn't it. These past 12 months did offer a fine new EP and an okay-enough album—their fourth since early 2012—from the reunited Guided by Voices. But it's become increasingly clear that a classic on par with the lo-fi legends' peak-era material might've been a little too much to ask for.
Robert Pollard is many things: an ex-schoolteacher; an Olympic-league beer drinker; a sports hero in his hometown of Dayton, OH; and the head of literally more bands than there are room to print the names of here (most famously, Guided By Voices). But, above all else, he’s an American treasure. A man so in love with weird rock ‘n’ roll albums that, as a teenager, he would create them from the ground up for his own amusement despite hardly having a grasp on how to record, or even how one might go about competently playing an instrument.
“I’ve finally figured out how to write a song after 55 years. ” Robert Pollard, speaking about his new album Blazing Gentlemen. For a man who has released around 1500 songs in the last twenty-five years, the above statement is possibly the most cryptic thing (of many) that has ever left Robert Pollard’s mouth.
Robert Pollard once claimed that he can write five songs on the toilet and three of them will generally be good. Given that he's put out twelve albums in three years he was probably telling the truth about the quantity of his toilet excesses. The quality and consistency of the product remains under dispute however. While with his latest solo album Pollard claims to have finally figured out how to write a song after 55 years, I doubt either critics or fans were holding their breath for a radical change in direction.