Robert Pollard Is Off to Business
[Guided By Voices, Inc.; 2008]
There's really no twist with Robert Pollard Is Off to Business, which maybe qualifies it as the greatest twist Pollard's pulled off in his post-GBV career. Composed of 10 songs clocking in at an average of three-and-a-half minutes each, Business showcases Pollard at his most conventional since, well, probably ever. He's also never leaned so heavily on long-time producer/multi-instrumentalist Todd Tobias, whose lush, expansive arrangements make Business sound shockingly MOR, especially coming from the king of tape hiss. Yet despite what sounds on paper like an over-the-hill artist throwing in the towel and finally sounding his age, Business only further attests to Pollard's unique abilities.
Always one to seek pop bliss from the most seemingly unpalatable places, Pollard approaches his classic rock influences on their own terms here. While 1970s power pop, arena rock, and MOR bands have always flavored his canon, he's never interpreted them as literally as he does on these meaty numbers. Whereas Pollard's previous album (Superman Was a Rocker, released just a few moons ago) saw him retooling old instrumental tracks, Business basically retools his record recollection. Just listen to how the stutter-stepping acoustic guitar of opener "The Original Heart" cops Led Zep's Houses of the Holy opener "The Song Remains the Same", or the acoustic pop charm of Big Star clones "The Blondes" and "Wealth and Hell-Being".
Just as the lo-fi vs. hi-fi debate has always been pretty fruitless with earlier material, Pollard's super hi-fi sound on Business isn't any more the story here than the suddenly slick production was on, say, 1996's professional-sounding Under the Bushes Under the Stars. "Gratification to Concrete" may feature a wah-wah guitar effect set to "Frampton", but ultimately it's muscular pop that can be learned in forty bucks worth of guitar lessons. Despite regal strings and an Eastern-tinged guitar, "To the Path!" isn't trying to match "Kashmir"'s bombast, especially when a proudly disjointed riff deflates the track's dramatic heightening. In case you're still concerned Pollard's gone heavy-handed on us, there's also loads of brainy power pop ("1 Years Old" being a highlight) and an ugly acoustic ballad titled "Confessions of a Teenage Jerk-Off".
Although Business ultimately ranks as yet another less-than-legendary offering from a living indie legend, its shortcomings are much more nuanced than typical Pollard releases. Not one track here merits swift deletion; Pollard packs too many ideas and sections into each one to render any completely unredeemable. The obvious drawback, though, is a relatively sluggish pace, especially on a grungey number like "No One But I" or closer "Wealth and Hell-Being"'s neverending outro. Still, Pollard embraces his rock icons at their most overblown here, and, despite his canon stretching around the world, Business manages to sound like something we haven't quite heard before on previous Pollard albums.
-Adam Moerder, June 10, 2008