Guided by Voices frontman and songwriter Robert Pollard's latest solo album Choreographed Man of War is his best work yet. Then again, I say that about almost all of Pollard's albums after they're released.
I'm one of the many entranced by and somewhat obsessed with the prolific musical output of this musical wunderkid hailing from the not too distant north of Dayton, Ohio. The man's infectious pop-rock amalgam draws you into its world and it's hard to escape at times. It's come to the point where I can't help it anymore. If Pollard aka Uncle Bob aka The Captain aka The Vampire on Titus releases it, I will buy it. And so will many others. No other songwriter is as consistent or trusted by their fans at this point in their career as Pollard is.
Choreographed Man of War marks the forth (or is it fifth? it's hard to keep up) release this year by Pollard and proves to be the best thus far.
Recorded under the moniker, Robert Pollard and His Soft Rock Renegades, the band consists of Pollard on guitar and vocals with GBV alums Greg Demos on bass and lead guitar and Jim Macpherson on drums.
A strong trio, and the album reflects it.
The first track, "I Drove A Tank," is a powerhouse. Pollard's love of The Who and all that is Townsend shine in this number. Driving guitars combined with Jimmy Mac's stellar drumming give this song its strength. This song has already become a staple of GBV's live show, which often borrows from Pollard's side projects. The mental image of Pollard swinging his mike with beer and cigarette in hand immediately pops into my head upon hearing this number. A definite fist pumper.
The album's next three tracks, "She Saw The Shadow," "Edison's Memos" and "7th Level Shutdown" showcase Pollard's growth as a songwriter. The songs are haunting both lyrically and melodically, yet still maintain the capacity to rock when need be. Pollard's been through some hell as of late and now he's letting the listener in.
The man who once wrote about Robot Boys, Weed Kings and Jabberstrokers has matured, writing lyrics such as, "We exchange love like radiation, under skies dark with alienation," and "You wanted to be alone and I don't want you to be alone." Personal stuff, but such tribulations have allowed Pollard to achieve new depth as a songwriter.
Pollard has embraced a big rock sound as of late, brushing aside the indie-rock school teacher persona of his past to become the rock 'n' roll principal. Isolation Drills, released by Guided By Voices earlier this year, had the big riffs to cement that as fact, so it's no surprise that this album contains its rockers, also.
"Citizen Fighter" and "Kickboxer Lightning" provide a bad-ass one-two punch midway though the album. Pollard's catchy vocal hooks and Greg Demos' lead guitar work are high points on these songs.
"Ballyhoo," a Prog Rock delight reminiscent of early Genesis, contains a reprise of the album opener "I Drove a Tank," which leads me to wonder if Pollard had intended Choreographed Man of War to be a concept album. If so, then the album's closer, "Instrument Beetle" is the perfect coda to this opera.
At seven minutes, this is the album's longest track and its most triumphant and melancholic. Fuzzed out guitars drone as Pollard pleads, "Stand by me, hold my hand, wake me up, I'm your man. We will walk, undecided, without hope, without love, without dreams..."
The drones rage for the final three minutes with an answering machine message to Pollard from a love struck yet conflicted friend as the vocal track. A beautiful finale.
Choreographed Man of War is an album that Robert Pollard has had in him for a long time. It's been poking its head out in past releases Isolation Drills and his 1999 solo effort Kid Marine. But here, Pollard and his skills are in complete fruition.
This is his best album. Of course, I'll be saying that with the next album, and the next, and the next...