By now you know the drill: another year, another Guided by Voices album. It's been a relatively quiet year for big poppa, what with less than a handful of Fading Captain releases and Bob's one-off collaboration with Phantom Tollbooth representing his entire creative output (a six-disc box-set, Hardcore UFOs
, will even the score this fall). That's an embarrassment of riches for most songwriters, but a paltry sum by Pollardian standards, leading some fans to wonder aloud if his seemingly endless well of songs might be running dry.
Louder, bolder and as infectious as Ebola, Earthquake Glue seems intent on silencing anyone who might have offhandedly quipped that Pollard's best days are behind him. In the massive recorded canon of GBV, there has been some throwaway fodder, but less so here; every track on Earthquake Glue holds its own. Lo-fi heartbreaker "My Son, My Secretary and My Country" marks the first appearance of horns on a GBV record, "I'll Replace You With Machines" takes Pollard's Who fixation taken to its logical, Tommy-aping conclusion, and "Dirty Water" is nearly as bubblegum gritty as the Standells tune from whence it spawned. Steve Albini's much-ballyhooed contribution, "My Kind of Soldier", succeeds on its own merits rather than his -- a jarring vocal hook and cotton-candy guitars whipped into a frenzy by Kevin March's dextrous pummeling and Doug Gillard's snarling lead lines.
If there's one real difference between Earthquake Glue and its immediate predecessors, it's that, Pollard has immersed himself deep in the waters of '70s prog- and art-rock. Though it has always been obvious that he was weaned on a steady diet of Genesis and the Alan Parsons Project, never has his songwriting reflected such dynamic scope; the jittery "Dead Clouds" suggests late-period Procol Harum, "Beat Your Wings" is epic in the tossed-off manner of Gentle Giant, and "The Main Street Wizards" subconsciously borrows from Pawn Hearts-era Van Der Graaf Generator. But while much of that stagnant, moribund genre was bloated and pompous, Pollard's new-millennium version of prog is injected with so much reckless rock 'n' roll spirit that the music's grandiose aspirations become secondary by comparison.
While it delivers the triumphant rock 'n' roll thrills and oddball incantations promised by the GBV "brand", the most surprising thing about Earthquake Glue is that, at a point in his career when his inventiveness really should be waning (along with his libido and his prostate), Robert Pollard's creative spark seems brighter than ever. At long last he's writing fully-realized arena-prog-rock anthems that teem with ferocious energy, spinning atmospherics and lyrics that transform banality into spectacle.