Robert Pollard can be his own worse enemy, his decision to record and release so many albums makes it hard for consumers to tell the wheat from the chaff. In the past you could count on his Guided By Voices output and you had to be a bit cautious with everything else. Since the demise of GBV this has become a trickier pursuit, good Bob and bad Bob come from all angles, but Boston Spaceships have been pretty consistently on the good side.
The latest from Bob’s main band is better than on the good side, it is his first album in a while that is on the great side. 70 minutes and 26 tracks long it is the masterpiece that he has been promising since he formed the band with Chris Slusarenko and John Moen, both of whom are on great form here. It is an expansive rock album and the quality of the songs is easily matched by the energy of the playing, Moen’s drumming has never sounded better and Slusarenko is proving to be the best musical partner for Pollard since Doug Gillard.
The album echoes a number of Pollard’s favourite classic acts, the Beatles are in there, but it is The Who that are the most obvious influence. That taken into account it has the Pollard stamp throughout and you can’t imagine anyone else producing a record quite like this now, or any time in the last 30 years.
Alongside the offbeat rockers, punky stompers and proggy jams, all featured here, are some great pop numbers. Best of these is the catchy ‘Make a Record for Lo-Life’, the sort of song that makes you sad that you’ll probably never get the chance to see it live (unless an unlikely UK tour surfaces). Bob even gets his groove on with the excellent ‘Chevy Marigold’ with soulful backing vocals from Tahoe Jackson being a perfect vocal partner.
Jackson is just one of the many well selected guest artists on the record, most of whom add guitar to the record. ‘You Just Can’t Tell’ features Colin Newman adding that 1970s Wire sound, Dream Syndicate man Steve Wynn trippily solos on ‘I Took on the London Guys’ making it sound like the Byrds at their most psychedelic. Classic line-up GBV axeman Mitch Mitchell gets a typically scrappy solo on ‘You In My Prayer’, fresh from the recent reunion gigs. Best of all is the typically big guitar solo from J Mascis at the end of ‘Tourist U.F.O.’, it couldn’t be played by anyone else and fits perfectly with the mood of the song.
Guest spots aside, the real reason why this is such an excellent album is the high quality of songs and playing throughout the album. It sounds like a classic four sided record, each side has an identity but the whole album holds together brilliantly. Spin, in a review that seems to have been written by someone who has only half listened to the album, seems shocked by the albums 26 song length. That shows a lack of understanding of Pollard’s back catalogue, it is more common than not for his albums to exceed the 20 song mark, and ignores the fact that this is a record that dips less than anything else he has produced in years.
It is a big, ambitious, energetic album and most artists would kill to be this exciting five albums into their career, let alone with their fifth release of the year (and it isn’t over yet with a Circus Devils album scheduled for October). The best album of the year? Possibly. The best guitar rock album of the year? Definitely. The kind of album that makes you want to throw caution to the wind, open the windows and turn the volume up real loud and one that deserves a caution free score.
By Dorian Rogers