“In Rock `n’ roll, you never lose! It doesn’t let you down, there’s no ups and downs. There’s no victories, no losses. It’s just constant…fuckin’…buzz!” — Robert Pollard, as captured on Relaxation of the Asshole
Just under two years shy of 50, Robert Pollard hasn’t shown any signs of letting up on the rock `n’ roll he holds so dear. Thousands of songs under his belt, dozens of albums, countless names for his projects and 20 years in Guided by Voices and we’re just now starting to lend all of our attention to his solo work. Well, perhaps the joke’s on us, as even in Guided by Voices, it was largely the Robert Pollard show. It wouldn’t have been GBV without Uncle Bob, and despite how many people actually really liked Tobin Sprout, the lineup for Pollard’s legendary band was always in flux. The band that started recording basement tapes in 1985 wasn’t the same band that closed their Miller Lite cooler for the last time in 2004. But Bob was always there, and, as evident on his new whopping 26 song set, From a Compound Eye, not much has changed.
It’s reassuring, really, to hear that Pollard’s new album sounds like Guided by Voices. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t, of course. For Pollard, it’s always been a rock show. He’s not going electronic a la Mark Eitzel or Bob Mould. He’s not going to live on in a wash of stoned feedback a la J. Mascis. He’s always going to play ass-kicking rock `n’ roll, sometimes with a ballad here and there, and always with an emphasis on having an awesome time. Hell, if you have ID, he might even toss you a Miller. One thing’s for sure, though—he’s going to give you all he’s got. That even means two album’s worth of songs, for better or for worse.
In the case of From a Compound Eye, all 26 songs fit on one disc. Only Pollard and Anal Cunt are capable of this sort of feat, and in the case of Pollard, all of them will actually be songs. Most of them will even be awesome. But it just wouldn’t be Bob without some filler. “Field Jacket Blues” is loud, but ultimately goes nowhere. “Kensington Cradle” is extremely messy and meandering, as is “Denied.” And, well, even some of the more entertaining shorter songs could have been made B-sides, at least. But Pollard is generous with his music. He’s got truckloads of it and he’s going to give it to us. Why fault him for that? Particularly when there are plenty of gems on this mighty monster of an album.
Beginning the disc with a ballad was a wise choice for Pollard, as “Gold” sets the scene with an older and wiser façade, but we then make it to “Dancing Girls and Dancing Men,” and are immediately brought back to the Big Starpower, the Who-isms and the Cheap Trickery of Guided by Voices. Just to show up Joan Jett and both guitar players in Radiohead (wink, wink), Pollard hands over some mighty riffs on “The Right Thing” and “The Numbered Head,” a sinister tune reminiscent of “Portable Men’s Society.” And “I’m A Widow” is every bit as crunchy and peppy as anything off of the last, say, five GBV albums (I am loathe to go back any further, as the recording quality gets gradually fuzzier the further back you go, despite how good the albums are).
So what song’s the hit, you ask? Hard to say. “Love is Stronger Than Witchcraft” has its charms, and a great title. “Dancing Girls” is the bounciest of the bunch. “Blessed in an Open Head” veers into hazy, psychedelic territory, which fares well for Pollard, as it’s one of his best songs, possibly ever. And “Lightshow” is sunny, dreamy pop, destined for a classic video, though I can’t, for the life of me imagine what it would depict.
Since 1985, Robert Pollard has been rocking the fuck out. And at 48, that isn’t about to change. I mean, if Adam Duritz is uglier and fatter than he is and keeps going, then why can’t Bob stick around to show him how it’s done. From A Compound Eye is a testament to Pollard’s remarkable energy and longevity. It has more than a few classic songs on it, and though it isn’t perfect, it doesn’t matter. Because in rock `n’ roll, you never lose.
Guided by Voices – Universal Truths and Cycles
Portastatic – Bright Ideas
Bob Mould – The Last Dog and Pony Show
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.