In the interest of full disclosure, I have never listened to Guided By Voices. It’s not that I don’t like them or anything. I just… sort of… missed them somewhere in there, this despite the fact that, in my current city (Los Angeles, if you wanna stalk me), November 12 is Guided By Voices Day (thanks, Wikipedia). Perhaps I’ll get around to listening to Guided By Voices some day, when I have time to go back and check out all the good stuff that I missed while I was busy having a fairly fucked up childhood (thanks, Mom).
But for now, I’ll have to be content (and I am, don’t worry) to talk to you about We All Got Out of the Army, the seemingly effortless new release by former Guided By Voices vocalist/songwriter/most-permanent-member Robert Pollard. Now, I get enough E-Music credits every month to roll the dice on some albums that I know precious little about but sound kind of interesting to me based on articles, reviews, or interviews I’ve read. That’s how I found I’m New Here by Gil Scott-Heron, an album that I highly recommend to people who stay up all night smoking cigarettes. I read a review of Pollard’s We All Got Out of the Army and it led me to download the album, in the hopes that I was obtaining a loose, fun guitar album from an indie rock icon to whom I’ve paid absolutely no attention.
Good news: that’s mostly what I got. We All Got Out of the Army sounds like Pollard assembled a band in his garage, plugged in, and recorded the whole shebang on a Saturday afternoon. The riffs are largely more memorable than the lyrics – I’m often accused of valuing a song’s lyrics over everything else, but I’m only partly guilty of that non-crime. It’s just that I don’t know why you would bother to write words if they’re not gonna, I dunno, mean something (let’s consult the late George Carlin on this one, shall we? “We do think in language, so the quality of our thoughts is only as good as the quality of our language.” Thanks, George. Like many people, I sure wish you weren’t dead). Pollard seems like he free-associates a lot of his words (okay, all of them), but the melodies are strong and the songs are brief enough to avoid annoying me (with the exception of “Rice Train” which is just really unnecessary). So even for a word guy like me, We All Got Out of the Army still mostly works despite the fact that maybe it mostly shouldn’t. See, I get the feeling that this sort of off-the-cuff, loosely written stuff is what the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jason Mraz are trying to do all the time and it really pisses me off when they do it (a Jason Mraz album came out when I worked at Tower Records in Boston and it was one of the all-time, top-five most embarrassingly awful things I’ve ever heard. It made me want to punch everyone and everything right in the face), but for some reason I can’t quite articulate, Robert Pollard is actually pretty good at that sort of thing.
Pollard’s voice – the album’s biggest asset, apart from those delightfully chunky guitar riffs – sounds like a nice combination of 1970s David Bowie and Warren Zevon (a lot of people hate Zevon because the only song of his they know is “Werewolves of London.” But if you’ve heard “My Ride’s Here” or “Accidentally Like a Martyr” or “Poor Pitiful Me” or “Excitable Boy,” you know that Warren Zevon was a pretty awesome dude) and for the most part, if Guided By Voices sounds like We All Got Out of the Army, I’m pretty sure I’ll end up liking them. I’ll have to get back to you on that.
As I mentioned earlier, Robert Pollard has the status of Indie Icon, in the Old Guys Wing that houses Frank Black, Thurston Moore, and Michael Stipe, among others; you know, the wing that is overseen by Lou Reed. It’s nice to know that but not know why, because it enabled me to approach We All Got Out of the Army with no reverence and no expectations. Maybe that’s why I find it so damn enjoyable. Longtime fans of Guided By Voices (or GBV, as the internet calls them) might have all manner of preconceived notions about Pollard’s solo work and might view this album as a travesty, but my bad childhood seems to have saved me from that (thanks again, Mom. Please never try to contact me).
Pollard’s songs don’t get stuck in my head the way a lot of songs do; for instance, “Terrible Love” by the National is stuck in my head right now because I listened to that album (about million times) this morning. And because I just thought about it. But the other day, I woke up with “I Can See” stuck in my head, despite not having heard We All Got Out of the Army for about two weeks. Every time I remember it’s a song, “Post-Hydrate Update” gets lodged in my brain because its chorus is truly lovely (and helpfully reminds us that “there is loveliness everywhere.” It also helpfully warns us that “there are children everywhere” – apparently Robert Pollard shops at the same Target I do) in its own weird way.
We All Got Out of the Army is helped a lot by the fact that its longest song doesn’t quite hit the three-and-a-half minute mark and it’s also aided by Pollard’s attitude – at least, what strikes me as Pollard’s attitude from the feel of the music. I get the feeling that this album doesn’t really care if you like it or not and I get the feeling that Bob Pollard had a helluva lot of fun recording it. It has the sound of music approached with absolute innocence. In a year with great new albums by the Hold Steady, the National, Emma Pollock, the Mynabirds,and what I hope are great albums by LCD Soundsystem and Band of Horses, We All Got Out of the Army doesn’t quite make it to Awesome in my estimation, but it’s a solid Good that I consistently enjoy. Feel free to recommend a Guided By Voices – er, GBV – album below!