Guided by Voices : Half Smiles of the Decomposed

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So this is goodbye. Robert, I hardly knew you. I got into Guided by Voices late in the game, my first purchase being 1999’s Do the Collapse. I know most of your fans weren’t really into that one, but for me, it was some sort of awakening. Before that I had dismissed most of your albums as overhyped lo-fi fodder for hipsters. But, oh, the hooks! The riffs! The lyrics! You sang about zoo pie (whatever the hell that is) over glam rock riffs, then serenaded some lucky lady with your admittance of awkward behaviour in the genius “Teenage FBI.” But that was only the beginning. I then fell in love with Mag Earwhig! and singles of year’s past and to come: “Everywhere With Helicopter,” “My Valuable Hunting Knife,” “Smothered In Hugs.”

And then, I heard the news: GBV was to split after their next album, Half Smiles of the Decomposed. Within a few months, it showed up in the mail, waiting for my eager ears to soak in its power-pop goodness and sing its praise. It took me a while to get to that point, though. I didn’t really know how to approach reviewing it, as any farewell album’s review will, of course, be penned with an unhealthy dose of bias, which I didn’t want to seep into mine. I wanted to listen, objectively, without delving too far into my own personal attachment to the band, though it seems I’ve already done that. And, honestly, with the legacy of any great band comes nostalgia and personal attachment. So I’m going to keep this as simple as I can.

Half Smiles of the Decomposed is exactly the right album for the right occasion. As I’ve said before, I loved much of your work. But I also found some of your earlier material unlistenable, as it was a little too lo-fi and lacked the right amount of polish it needed. Half Smiles, however, is the accomplishment of a band that has grown immensely over the years and have evolved in sound and in production quality, while never abandoning your original power-pop aesthetic.

I’m glad to see that you cut all of the bullshit song snippets from this record. Though I loved Mag Earwhig!, there was far too much extraneous material that didn’t live up to the quality of the better songs of the album. Here, however, it all rocks. From the rocking opener, “Everybody Thinks I’m a Raincloud,” to the poppy “Girls of Wild Strawberries” and “Gonna Never Have to Die,” to the anthemic “The Closets of Henry” to the dreamy “Tour Guide At the Winston Churchill Memorial,” there’s not a single bad song, which is a quality that not enough albums have.

Perhaps you were just teasing us all this time. With so much recorded output, you could have easily compacted all of your best material into fewer albums, but you preferred releasing absolutely everything, which was endearing, but not necessarily the right decision. But after announcing that this is the end, you give us a perfect album. It’s a smart move, leaving us with something that will be remembered as genius, and you’ll go down in history books as a legend, if you haven’t already. Thank you, Bob, and happy retirement.

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