Guided By Voices’ Long Wolk Off A Short Pier

Posted in Rock Und Roll at 12:59 pm by

With about 72 hours left to go in the life of Bob Pollard’s gift to rock’n’roll, Guided By Voices, rather than reflect on the thrills this American treasure has brought us, let us instead bring up the oft-argued position that Pollard doesn’t know how to edit himself, rarely exercises quality control, etc.

But before we get to that, is there an obligation on Pollard’s part to be any more or less focused, to display greater follow-though than say, someone who passes comment on hundreds of recordings a year? Is Bob any more or less arrogant to assume that every composition or recording is worthy of commerical release than the blogger who pollutes the universe with mind-numbingly boring details about his or her personal life?

I’ll save the next question for those of you who have actually done the research and aren’t just repeating shit you’ve heard a hundred times. Is Guided By Voices’ hit or miss ratio any better or worse than that of Bob Dylan, Mark E. Smith, Neil Young, Jay Z, Prince Rogers Nelson or the Frogs?

I think the GBV ouvre holds up pretty fucking well compared to any of the above — and that’s even if you take ‘Bee Thousand’ out of the mix. Naturally, I’m biased, but so is everyone with a pulse. The only people on earth who have a problem with Robert Pollard’s insane creative output are a) record company fucks who struggle to shift all of it (present company included) and b) self-styled guardians of quality control who are just as hung up on how their tastes reflect on themselves as they are the actual content of what they’re reviewing. For the actual human beings who purchase GBV records, having a lot to absorb is a blessing rather than a curse. Though I’m aware that Mike Piazza, waiting patiently for his Dream Theatre triple CD/DVD box set to arrive, could make a similar argument, Pollard’s efforts yield far more than “a few gold flakes” and only suffer comparison to his older work if you’re somehow embarrassed that you’ve liked the same band for more than 3 years. That is, without said band having the promotional savvy to break up, go insane, fall into lengthy legal battles with record company fucks, end up in prison, etc. I mean, shame on Bob for not having provided a hot enough backstory (until this week, that is).

14 responses to “Guided By Voices’ Long Wolk Off A Short Pier”

  1. jamie says:

    i think the record store guy in “Watch Me Jumpstart” put it best when he declaimed that Pollard could write 5 songs on the toilet, and that 3 of them would be good (whether that was his original sentiment i don’t know – it’s the first time i ever heard it). the fact that not everyone agrees which of those 3 are the good ones doesn’t mean that the problem lies in the quantity of his output it just menas that as you say there’s going to be a backlash against any band with any kind of longevity regardless of whether their music is still any good or not. and if you ever liked any GBV song or album whatsoever, you can’t tell me that there’s not a cache of good songs on their (supposed) final piece of wax. i suppose many people grow bored of a band that lasts so long that isn’t pushing any “boundaries” or “growing” (thus the continued fellatio of Radiohead and, to a lesser extent, Wilco though much of their “best” output may be behind them) and thus don’t give proper attention to each new recording, content instead to offer glib assessments designed to offer self-satisfaction and little else. music is subjective by nature, but certainly criticism should be more measured and well-constructed.

  2. slim says:


  3. CSTB says:

    Jamie wrote :
    “i suppose many people grow bored of a band that lasts so long that isn’t pushing any “boundaries” or “growing” (thus the continued fellatio of Radiohead and, to a lesser extent, Wilco though much of their “best” output may be behind them) and thus don’t give proper attention to each new recording, content instead to offer glib assessments designed to offer self-satisfaction and little else.”

    indeed, all of which lends creedence to Pollard’s decision to pull the plug on GBV. Though rocking under his own name (or that of a 3rd party) won’t be nearly as lucrative, moving ahead without the GBV security blanket frees Bob from many constraints/expectations.

    “music is subjective by nature, but certainly criticism should be more measured and well-constructed.”

    Not to start a whole other thread or anything, Jamie, but I’d like to state that a) on most occassions I find Douglas Wolk’s criticism to be either measured or well-constructed and b) I don’t think Wolk or anyone else is obliged to be measured in what they say.

  4. Tommy Hoops says:

    I appreciate what Pollard has been able to achieve under the GBV banner, even though my enthusiasm/devotion would rise and fall over the years… which was more of a reflection of the way I listen to music more than anything. I’ve always been drawn to artists who can knock out a massive body of work, but sometimes I just dont have the willpower to listen to that much music the way it deserves to be listened to. So I take a break and come back for a breather.

    But Bob’s been nothing but devoted to carrying the flame. It’ll be interesting to see where he ends up when the dust settles and GBV is laid to rest.

    Unfortunately for some, we’re not playing a musical equivalent of assembling a fantasy baseball team; ‘I’ll take Bob Pollard’s songwriting, but I’ll also take George Martin to keep him in line.’ I’d love it if there was a Kevin Shields/Bob Pollard/Martin Phillips uber-musician out there. I’d also like to shoot lasers out of my eyes.

    And at the risk of sounding beyond trite, there’s only one Robert Pollard, and you take the whole package. He’s clearly not the type to model himself after his heroes – how much farther can he be from Pete Townsend in terms of output? – so let’s just let Bob be Bob.

    And I say this all as someone who hopes this thing isn’t escalated into anything bigger than what it is, because I respect both parties.

    Tommy Hoops!

  5. CSTB says:

    Mr. Hoops wrote : “I’ve always been drawn to artists who can knock out a massive body of work, but sometimes I just dont have the willpower to listen to that much music the way it deserves to be listened to. So I take a break and come back for a breather.”

    I think that’s what most people do. But I would never suggest for a second that those who have really sunk themselves into GBV’s extensive catalog and enjoyed most or all of it, somehow have lower standards or lack the critical faculties of say, someone who admits to agreeing to review 97 albums in two weeks.

  6. jamie says:

    fair enough about Mr. Wolk, and you’re right that measured is not the right word in that situation. criticism is certainly more interesting when it’s from the heart and/or off the cuff. what i was after was a call for a bit more self-awareness when it comes to whether one’s first reaction to something is the most truthful or whether it comes from the sort of bias motivated by one’s need to feel “cool” or “cutting edge” or any number of other adjectives you could name. which applies more to part b) of your paragraph #4 than to what Wolk wrote.

  7. CSTB says:

    ’tis not my place to say whether or not Douglas W. is trying to come off as “cool” or “cutting edge”. I suspect he isn’t and that his intentions are noble enough. But intent has nothing to do with it. I’ll return to my main point — the hypocrisy of dissing Bob Pollard’s lack of quality control while at the same time presuming anyone on planet earth gives a flying fuck about hundreds of rambling observations about contemporary music.

  8. Darren F. says:

    Pollard’s hit rate is higher than anybody’s. One who claims to be disappointed with post-’97 GBV is, in my estimation, just comparing it to Bee Thousand or growing accustomed to (bored with) GBV. Nothing wrong with that, but I fail to see how an editor — a “best of” Gillard-era GBV — would be a satisfying listen for that person.

    For me personally, a lot of Pollard’s “castoffs” are his most enjoyable works. Would a diligent editor throw out “Tropical Robots” or “Beekeeper Seeks Ruth” or “Ha Ha Man”? Your list of favorites is different than mine, and the same goes for every GBV fan.

  9. Magee says:

    I don’t know, folks. Wolk simply seems to be part of the large number of GBV fans (myself included) who simply think that Pollard started putting out largely crap records after Under the Bushes (or even earlier). It has nothing to do with becoming bored with the band; it has to do with the band becoming boring. The problem is that people seem to feel compelled to make arguments in terms of the ‘finishedness’ of the tunes, rather than simply whether they are good or shit. Pollard’s songs are probably more technically finished today in general than they were around B1000; however, he’s largely lost his knack for creating real sonic drama and intrigue in a very small space, apparently without effort. He’s also putting out way more tunes per year (I haven’t checked this fact, admittedly), which leads people to the red herring of ‘finishedness’ = quality. I don’t think he really knows how to finish a song, and when he tries he usually fails. We shouldn’t demand that of him, but we can hope that the old spark returns (it showed signs on the swan song this year).

    For Darren F. to say “Pollard’s hit rate is higher than anybody’s” is obviously a subjective matter, but I can’t resist saying it’s a ridiculous claim. I also don’t think that every GBV fan has a different list of favorites – that may be strictly true, but I think there’s very broad consensus around the core hits among 90% of the fans, and more of them come from the earlier records.

  10. CSTB says:

    A broad consensus is no guarantee of being correct. If you’re free to presume what everyone else’s favorite songs are, I’m equally free to presume that non-musical factors enter into the decision making process.

    If you think there’s no sonic drama in “Surgical Focus”, “Sleepover Jack”, “The Best Of Jill Hives” or “My Kind Of Soldier”, well, there’s no point in arguing. We’re each hearing something entirely different….which happens with humans that don’t share the same head.

  11. Darren F. says:

    Hi Magee, I think we agree in this regard: Pollard doesn’t need an editor, he just needs to write better songs. If one has a problem with recent GBV/Fading Captain, it’s probably w/ the quality, not the quantity.

    I wonder what Bee Thousand would sound like if the Mythical Editor could have chopped it up — would this editor have included Kicker Of Elves, Her Psychology Today, You’re Not An Airplane? (Putting aside for the moment that I’ve just left Pollard with maybe a 20-minute record.)

    Would this editor have allowed Under the Bushes, Tonics & Twisted Chasers, Sunfish Holy Breakfast, AND Not In My Airforce to be released in more or less the same year? (Does anybody question the quality of THOSE recordings? I suppose that’s subjective, too.)

  12. Magee says:

    CSTB, I definitely don’t mean to substitute consensus for taste in any way. I was simply (poorly) trying to argue that the consistent quantity of Bob’s output probably hasn’t provided each fan with a unique set of personal gems selected from across the band’s chronology.

    And I’d be crazy to say he’s totally lost it, and I may have come on a bit strong. “Best Of Jill Hives”, “My Kind Of Soldier”, “Useless Inventions”, “Girls Of Wild Strawberies”, “Gonna Never Have To Die” and more are all ace. Half Smiles is actually my favorite of that final triad of records recorded somewhat in the old style, and it bodes well for the future as far as I’m concerned.

    I also fell into a trap that I often forget about: arguing the pre- and post-Under The Bushes output as a story of Pollard’s decline without acknowledging the contribution/absence of Tobin Sprout. Certainly can’t be underestimated.

  13. CSTB says:

    M – while I’ll say nothing to diminish the contributions of Tobin Sprout — a songwriting and guitar playing genius in my estimation — the emergence of Doug Gillard as both foil/supporting player to Bob P. should also not be underestimated. Gillard’s “I Am A Tree” is one of the highlights of latter-day GBV sets and the guy has been an instrumental dynamo in every band he’s played in, this one especially.

    anyhow, I’ve gotta say I am very impressed at the level of discussion this particular entry has coaxed from y’all, and I look forward to the resumption of name-calling/Weiland-baiting sometime in the New Year.

  14. the raging cortez says:

    it seems like a painful existence for mr. wolk … i have to admit i’ve thought about the subject matter, but agree or disagree, i’ve never felt as troubled as him by these or any other artists. the intensity of analysis is very high and writing rules for artists to adhere to is at the very least a masturbatory exercise.

    the mindset on display reminds me of a sports fan complaining about the play-calling in a football game, deriding the offensive coordinator’s playbook or what have you. even in sports, that is a pretty useless endeavor but at least there is a agreed upon goal that can be objectively observed: winning the game.

    with creative output, so much is subjective in terms of the relationship between art and listeners, there can be no formula to objectively increase “success”. (this is not including heavily crafted songs designed to grab the listener and move units – a concrete goal by which success can be measured).

    personally, if i’m intrigued by an artist, i don’t measure how good he or she is by some kind of success ratio, even as subjectively observed by me.

    as for mr. pollard not “finishing” songs, it seems to me that is again something in the eye of the beholder, carrying with it an assumption of some sort of craft guidlines that – thank god – don’t exist in the world of rock.

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