(Editor's Note: The "Sunday Morning" essay is a personal opinion
piece and does not reflect the views of SonicNet Inc., or its affiliated
Editorial Director Michael Goldberg writes:
When I heard that the former leader of '80s new-wave band the Cars was
producing the new Guided by Voices album, I breathed a sigh of relief.
With Ric Ocasek at the helm, how could GBV fail to finally achieve the
success they have long deserved?
After all, Ocasek helped Weezer, among others, create hit albums.
Yet weeks after the release of the amazing Do the Collapse, the
CD still has not broken into the Billboard 200 albums chart.
Guided by Voices make quirky pop music in the tradition of '60s bands
like the Beatles and the Beach Boys, '70s power-pop cult heroes like Big
Star and the Flamin' Groovies, and are peers of (and influences on) '90s
lo-fi wizards such as Apples in Stereo and Olivia Tremor Control.
Led by Robert Pollard a former school teacher with a robust thirst
for beer who lives in Dayton, Ohio Guided by Voices have had a
shifting cast of musicians, but their album-to-album consistency confirms
that Pollard is the group's creative mastermind.
There is a mind-blowing beauty to the work of Guided by Voices, and the
new album is the kind of masterpiece that compels you to play it over
and over and over. Songs such as the oughta-be-a-hit opening track,
"Teenage FBI" (RealAudio
excerpt), the heartbreaking ballad "Hold On Hope"
excerpt), the addictive pop-grunge rocker "Much Better Mr.
excerpt) and the guitars-a-blazin' "Strumpet Eye" get better
with each listen.
Guided by Voices initially caught the attention of critics, including
former SonicNet album reviews editor Michael Azerrad, who were taken
both by the group's sound and by their lo-fi aesthetic. Early albums up
through the breakthrough Bee Thousand (1994) were recorded on
primitive four-track and eight-track recorders.
By using lo-fi equipment, the group created a sound that seemed to have
reached us after crossing galaxies: distant, remote and, at times, hard
to make out an elusive something found as one was searching the
radio dial late at night, zeroing in on a faint sonic gem coming through
between two stronger stations.
As we found out more about GBV, we learned that it was necessity, not
aesthetic choice, initially, that accounted for the lo-fi recordings.
And as time went on, it became clear that Pollard was ready, willing and
able to enter a big-time recording studio and make aurally Technicolor
After experiments with producers that included a record partially
produced by Steve Albini and former Pixies member/ Breeders leader Kim
Deal, Pollard has found his perfect match in Ocasek. While some hear
new-wave production touches, I just hear an album that renews my faith
in the magic of rock 'n' roll.
At a time when the charts continue to be dominated by slop like LFO's
"Summer Girls" and former Mouseketeer Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a
Bottle," Guided by Voices take the high road. For all I know, Pollard
thinks he's compromising by working with a known hit-maker such as Ocasek
and filling the album with gorgeous hooks.
But I've never felt that an artist's intentions have anything to do with
whether what they produce is art or junk. I'm sure Dan Fogelberg thinks
he's a sensitive artist. But he's not. His lyrics are Hallmark greeting
cards set to maudlin jingles.
In the '50s, James Brown went into the recording studio to cut hits; what
he came out with was art that has withstood the test of time. Oh yeah,
and his art topped the charts, too.
These are dark times, and this year has seen brilliant album after
brilliant album come out, only to vanish without making so much as a
blip on the commercial radar screen check Sparklehorse, check
Flaming Lips, check Sleater-Kinney.
I wish things were different for those bands, and for Guided by Voices.
The second-to-last track of Do the Collapse is titled "Picture
Me Big Time" (RealAudio
excerpt). Yeah, baby!