The Mystery Of Guided By Voices

Why can't one of the best rock bands on the planet get a break?

(Editor's Note: The "Sunday Morning" essay is a personal opinion

piece and does not reflect the views of SonicNet Inc., or its affiliated

companies.)

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"

(RealAudio

excerpt), the addictive pop-grunge rocker "Much Better Mr.

Buckles" (RealAudio

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

albums.

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!