An important thing to remember about the Guided By Voices reunion: They were the weird old guys in the club the first time around, too. Back in the day, the music press had an easy time lumping them in with the then-ascendant wave of lo-fi indie rock wiseacres: Pavement, Sebadoh, Smog, about a million others. And there were similarities, certainly: slapdash recording techniques, lyrical obtuseness, general lack of fashion sense. But they were also old enough to remember the Camaro-rock anthems of the 70s and drunk enough to attempt their own versions of those songs. Robert Pollard was the only one of his peers who sang in anything like a fake British accent, and his records tended to pile on the big juicy Cheap Tricked-out hooks. They tended to come off less like new-era art-school travelers and more like dudes who were rocking as hard as they could with whatever meager resources they had at their disposal. When they recorded Isolation Drills, making the leap to a bigger label and an actual professional producer, it didn’t feel as forced as we might’ve expected. And maybe that’s why they’re able to get together without missing a step; they’re still those same old guys rocking as hard as they possibly can.
When you listen to GBV’s brand-new Let’s Go Eat The Factory, there are a few layers of nostalgia at work. When you’re listening to a ’90s band’s reunion album — the reunion album from the classic mid-’90s lineup, at that — that’s one form of retro. When the band spent their glory years perfecting a version of beered-up ’70s power-pop, that’s another form. And in some of their prettier moments, GBV sound like they’re doing their own take on Big Star, who were themselves doing their own take on British Invasion psych and sweetly starry-eyed early-’60s AM-radio pop. If you start theorizing about this stuff too hard, you can get dizzy and lose the thread. So here’s what matters: The new Guided By Voices delivers in the same way that their recent reunion shows have delivered. It gives us a band somehow immune to time’s ravages, still blasting through the same madly catchy drunken jams that they did for so long.
Unlike plenty of the people who read this site, I’ve never been a GBV superfan; it’s always been a like-not-love situation with me. And I have the same minor issues with the band as I’ve always had. I wish their rhythm section would punch harder, and I wish they’d ditch the few obligatory mid-album songs where everyone just seems to be halfassing it. (This time around, “The Big Hat And Toy Show” is probably the greatest offender.) For converts, though, GBV’s flaws-and-all maximalism was a big part of the appeal, and I can’t imagine any of them will be disappointed. And even if you were just a casual fan, there’s a ton to like here. Of the 21 songs here, probably 15 have gigantic, indelible hooks, and you can’t front on that batting average.
A few weeks ago, the band canceled all their 2012 live dates, and it was widely reported that they’d broken up again, a news story that their reps quickly debunked. Apparently, they’re already working on another new album. This sequence of events seems exactly right. This band should always move in shadowy chaos, and there seems to be no reason why they couldn’t crank out another 15 albums as solid as this one. It’s just how they work.
Let’s Go Eat The Factory is out now on GBV Inc. Stream it at NPR.
This column has been on hiatus for the past few weeks, mostly because record-release schedules slow to a crawl during the holidays. Let’s Go Eat The Factory is really the only notable album that’s out this week, but this isn’t a default pick; it really does merit your attention. Also, I thought Young Jeezy’s new album, out two weeks ago, was pretty good.