Review: Space Gun by Guided by Voices

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Pollard played baseball in high school. You must know that already, but perhaps you didn’t know that he threw a no-hitter. Baseball players have a built-in understanding that they will fail. They lose dozens of games per year. They lose as many times per year as NFL players in their career (but enjoy far fewer concussions). Even inning to inning, each trip to the plate brings failure more often than success. Maybe this is the key to understanding Robert Pollard.

He swings for the fences every time, strikes out one out of four, hits the home run one out of four, gets a double one out of four and hits a grand slam once a game and then releases all of those songs on every album. If you were a baseball player, that batting percentage would be astronomical. MVP for sure. Keep them coming, Bob. We love you. Run for President.

Try to imagine a more difficult job than writing press releases for Guided by Voices record. “Another record full of mostly great pop-rock songs!” or perhaps “This is the one where Robert Pollard sings 5% louder!” This record came with the usual comment on prolificacy and this quote from Pollard — “The songs just come to me.” This lack of effort is refreshing as the lack of narrative indicates a continuing career of perpetual quality and quantity. Those two concepts being at odds in almost every area of study but here, combined for the benefit of the super fan.

Robert Pollard’s 100th LP August By Cake started with an echoing voice and trumpets signaling a royal entry. Robert Pollard’s 102nd full-length record starts with a recording of a paper towel dispenser. This is the dynamism of Pollard and GBV and somewhere in the distance between trash and treasure lies all of the reasons we are still here after so many.

Space Gun begins with its title track and premiere single. Its one of those instantly self-important Bob songs that is kind of about itself and also about nothing. An effortless but dynamic melody, crashing drums, and a melodic twist in the coda makes it one of the best GBV songs since their underrated 2002-2004 period. "Colonel Paper" is muscular and could be a top-tier Earthquake Glue leftover. Its chorus absolutely shreds; I hope they play this one live on their next tour.

“Ark Technician” has stoic pop like the b-sides to Do the Collapse. “See My Field” never finds its equilibrium, beautifully propelling forward off balance like a confident skateboard that just got the death wobble. They aren’t all bangers, but there isn’t a runt in the litter. “Liar’s Box” is one of those motoric-verse-but-poppy-chorus Pollard songs, the kind he invented around the time of Under the Bushes and has had on almost every record since — and hey, why not, the formula works.

“Hudson Rake” has sinewy guitars and its opening lyric is “Look, there goes the rat smasher” and it moves routinely until an alternate chorus brings some differentiation. There is also a song called “I Love Kangaroos”, which is fantastic. Some other highlights include “Grey Spat Matters”, with a floating pop perfection melody in the chorus, and “That’s Good”, which is one of those factory floor singalong Pollard songs that starts as a simple pop number but ends up progging the chord progression into some alternate world Yes punk build.

GBV’s 35th different lineup is solid. Mark Shue brings driving basslines, Bobby Bare Jr. with solidifying rhythm, Doug Gillard is Pollard’s all-time best copilot after Tobin Sprout (sorry Tim Tobias) and Kevin March (now in his fourth stint in GBV) shows a keen understanding for what rhythms aid Pollard’s content.

Space Gun is one of Pollard’s best. That’s saying quite a bit, I have heard them all. Yes, all 102 albums. Unlike almost all the rest, there is virtually no filler here. Every 3-4 records after the classic period have this special vibe — Isolation Drills, Moses On a Snail, From a Compound Eye, etc. — and this one sits comfortably with those, a record that even superfans could enjoy start to finish and not immediately pillage for a playlist.

Speaking of that playlist, it’s a great way to enjoy Pollard. Mine is called “The Best of Bob Pollard” and it has 119 songs, all of them perfect. It’s 4 hours long. B PLUS