Two months ago I had the pleasure of seeing Guided By Voices? last Dallas gig, but I?m not the fan I once was, partly because they?re not the band they once were. As can happen with any aging rocker, it appeared GBV had shot its wad prematurely, but that didn?t slow down a hectic and needlessly prolific release schedule. After years of lineup changes and shakeups, Robert Pollard finally found a worthy band to augment his power pop/art punk at the end of the 90s. But it wasn?t the perfect band really. The perfect GBV lineup (or as close as they ever got) dates from around 1991 to 1995. In this golden age, Pollard?s collaborators were old friends and gifted underground musicians. Tobin Sprout and Mitch Mitchell were tops among a vibrant cast of oddballs and working class stalwarts of the Dayton indie scene. Tobin (who played a rousing, almost all requests opening set at that final Dallas show) brought a sense of isolated, fragile melody; Mitch brought some early Who punk grit into Robert Pollard?s increasingly bizarre punk/psych hybrids. The fruits of their labor yielded underground time capsules like ?Vampire on Titus,? ?Propeller? (Scat) and especially ?Bee Thousand? and ?Alien Lanes? (Matador), all essential for the power pop and psych pop fan reared on fractured DIY punk. A bevy of singles and EP?s from then also prove equally worthwhile, ?Fast Japanese Spin Cycle? (Engine) and ?The Grand Hour? (Scat) to name but two.
Then something happened: Lineup changes, Pollard spent the next few years attempting to solidify something, flirted with major label backing and returned back to Matador Records. The highlights are fewer on the later albums, the presentation more polished with a heavier, radio ready variation of mid 70s power pop. Pollard still managed to produce a few gems, but, to put it mildly; he could lose focus left to his own devices.Now the word comes down that 15 ?official? albums and 21 years is enough. Just about every facet of Pollard?s post psych/punk universe has been examined and reexamined, and in the process something?s been lost, a sense of youthfulness or stoned absurdity; the luck of time and drunken confection. Maybe if I?d never heard ?Vampire on Titus? or ?Bee Thousand,? later albums like ?Universal Truths and Cycles? and this, ?Half Smiles of the Decomposed,? would rate a stronger response. Still Pollard?s released stronger, or at least weirder, material since those early days in his Fading Captain Series and with his screechy art punk trio Circus Devils.
But enough of my aged homily, onto the music: It glitters with the sad glow that?s marked so much of GBV?s material since 2001?s ?Isolation Drills? (TVT), which was recorded in the wake of Pollard?s divorce. This time the bittersweet pills go down a bit easier though. Opener ?Everybody Thinks I?m a Raincloud? more accurately sums up latter day GBV than I could, with jangly power pop guitars, steadfast rhythms and Pollard sounding more confessional and less oblique than ever. ?Sleep Over Jack? posits a marshal beat with acoustic guitars and falsetto harmonies to lovely effect. ?Window of My World? builds from a lo-fi acoustic strum to some impressive early 70s Who styled dynamics. "Sons of Apollo? even features some baked backwards guitar noise over its metronomic rhythms and hits a few genuine pleasure centers. The production is clean but still slightly garagy, very much in line with early 70s glam and power pop classics, but the little snippets of magic and damage that made earlier GBV albums so human and mystical are not there. Maybe they just can?t be anymore. Yet the memories of those thrills of discovery come flooding in, along with the sense that a pop song can be anything, random radio transmissions can be high art and the Beatles matter just as much as Wire ever did. All these little epiphanies come tangled with the aura of what was and is Guided By Voices. Shed a tear for the passing of an American institution. King Shit and the Golden Boys have left the building. 6/10 -- Lee Jackson (25 May, 2005)