The Rolling Stones played Super Bowl XL. In 2004, Bono shamelessly promoted the iPod in a particularly flashy advertisement. And even Van Halen is now back in their original line up and touring again. As fan of rock ‘n’ roll of all varieties, I’ve learned to embrace artists in their prime moment, and understand that as I grow up, so will they — for better or worse. After all, even a once young and eager punk rock rebel has to pay the bills somehow.
Naturally, this is how I felt when I heard Guided By Voices were to release a new album. I didn’t grow up with GBV per say, but I have grown quite fond of Robert Polland’s musical output over the years, and “Gold Heart Mountaintop Queen Directory,” to this day, contains some of my favorite lyrics of all time. But even though the classic 1996 line up was back together, I expected their new material to reflect more modern techniques and tastes (or even worse — a half-hearted attempt to imitate their classic sound). No more 4-track recordings, no more minute and a half songs that blended together as one blur, and definitely not the same driving momentum and care-free noisiness that defined albums like Bee Thousand and Under the Bushes, Under the Stars. Of this, I was fundamentally sure.
To my confusion, I was neither wrong nor right. When it comes down to it, I largely compare the feel of the Let’s Go Eat The Factory to the legendary White Album, but not because Guided By Voices sound like a band divided. To the contrary, the album is one of the more put-together collections in the band’s discography. But, the album is almost deliriously split between steady, understated jams and trippy, circa-1969 moments, and GBV seems to cram together ideas they’ve been letting stew over during the decade and a half since this lineup last got recorded together.
Let’s Go Eat The Factory is cohesive enough to sound like an album, but the songs vary drastically in both writing and production. Some thrash through a melody in a minute flat, while others are slow, moody and melodic. There are acoustic piano moments, as well as string accompaniment. The band seems to have more carefully chosen the appropriate recording method for each song. Tracks like “Either Nelson” and “Doughnut for a Snowman” are more condensed, exploding as if recorded in a garage or basement. On the other hand, carefully planned moments, like those found in the ballad “We Won’t Apologize For The Human Race,” pay careful emphasis to particular melodic lines and obviously make use of more sophisticated recording techniques.
To conclude, I’ll focus on what Let’s Go Eat The Factory isn’t. It’s definitely not their best album, and it’s not a revolutionary new sound. However, it also isn’t a re-hash of their old material, and it isn’t a blunt effort to make more money off of a dead career. It is, I believe, a beautiful album, a good addition to the GBV discography and a solid collection of songs that introduce the band’s sound to a new generation of PBR-chugging indie rockers.