Review – Guided by Voices, Cool Planet
– by Shawn Conner
At this point, six albums into their reunion* phase, Guided by Voices have settled into a solid if somewhat predictable groove.
Fans who have been keeping up with the long-running Dayton band’s output since 2012’s Let’s Go Eat the Factory have come to expect certain things – some crunchy, catchy rockers; some Beatles-esque sweet spots, usually courtesy Tobin Sprout (the soul of the “classic” lineup); a straight-up pop song or two; and a number of experimental wig-out head-scratchers. Also, reliably, the albums will have so many ideas whizzing by in its generous amount of songs that the relatively short running time (usually just over the 35-minute mark) will seem longer. Oh, and there will be collage photo cover art.
Cool Planet checks all these boxes, and so it’s practically impossible to qualify the new record in relation to the previous batch (and pointless to compare it to pre-reunion-era GBV. Trust me on this.) Is it better than Motivational Jumpsuit, a 20-song set from earlier this year that includes newly minted GBV classics like “Littlest League Possible” and “Alex and the Omegas”? Does it measure up or surpass English Little League, a collection of 17 songs released last year that includes the killer “Xeno Pariah” and the exquisite “Flunky Minnows”? What about, how does it stand up to Let’s Go Eat the Factory (the first of three 2012 albums, and which boasts the immortal “The Unsinkable Fats Domino” and hilarious “How I Met My Mother”)?
The truth is, on the first few listens, Cool Planet has some highs and some lows. But GBV, and main man Robert Pollard, are tricksters – tracks that don’t sound like anything special (“Costume Makes the Man”, for instance) on initial listens have a habit of sneaking up on you, while tunes that are the most immediately grabby (“Bad Love is Easy to Do”) can swiftly wear out their welcome.
I will, however, go out on a limb and say, unequivocally, that “Table at Fool’s Tooth”, “Pan Swimmer” and “Males of Wormwood Mars” (both by Pollard) are going to rock like mofos live (the band is playing a series of East Coast dates this month and a series of West Coast dates, including Seattle, in June – see tour dates here), while “All American Boy” (Sprout) is a lovely piece of songcraft. (In fact, Sprout’s Beatles influences have never been more pronounced than on Cool Planet.) The jury’s still out, for this fan at least, on several other songs – but I expect “Fast Crawl”, “These Dooms”, “Hat of Flames” and “You Get Every Game” will reveal their charms over time. And even if they don’t, there’s enough great stuff here for me to anxiously await the next one.
*The “reunion” being of what is regarded as the “classic” lineup – the one that recorded what many regard as the band’s high-water marks, Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes.