With a sound reminiscent of their early lo-fi recordings, the latest release from Guided By Voices, Please Be Honest, finds the indie rock legend Robert Pollard in mad scientist mode once again. Pollard is responsible for all of the songwriting and instrumentation on the album. In that way he reminds that even through the breakups, reunions, and additional breakups, he has always been GBV.
While Please Be Honest does share a DYI quality with earlier albums, when compared to early 90s classics like Bee Thousand, the album seems like a weary disappointment. However, Pollard has always been unapologetic, like a guitar wielding gathering storm. His voice is coarser here, on the 22nd album. With a solo album released earlier this year, as well as, other projects like Ricked Wicky, putting out another album under the GBV moniker might seem peculiar; however, given the history of Pollard and the on-again, off-again band, it makes perfect sense.
The songs on Please Be Honest are in keeping with the constant state of evolution and experimentation of most GBV albums. Which is to say, the songs are hit or miss. On track opener, “My Zodiac Companion”, the infectious hook plays nicely against Pollard’s weathered vocal performance of the chorus.
On the brief “Kid on a Ladder”, the gorgeous sub two-minute track (as many of them are), Pollard sings the cryptic lines, “Kid on a ladder knows/Patrolling an altitude/ Oh no/Kid on a ladder knows/Nothing else matters though,” with as much direct assurance as any of his mid-90s output. Is it about our current state of affairs? The choices faced by today’s youth? Maybe. I’m not sure deciphering Pollard’s beguiling avant-garde poetry speaks to how beautiful it often is. In the best GBV songs, it’s always the easy way the emotions fit the melodies.
That is not to say that Please Be Honest is not without its faults. “Sad Baby Eyes” raises the hair on the back of your neck, but not in a good way. When Pollard extols like a drunken soothsayer over a simple riff, “Sad baby eyes/Enough horror of the eyes,” the effect is cringe worthy. It’s as if Pollard decided to quit the song a quarter of the way through and didn’t think it was worth finishing. It wasn’t.
Even on the grand experiment “The Grasshopper Eaters”, the meditative exploration is captivating at times but the randomness of sounds (are those pots and pans, a hammer?) and odd time signatures makes one wonder if this is indie rock by way of John Cage, or just simply what Pollard wants to do? And while not entirely successful, is there anything more punk than that? B MINUS