As we go up, we go down.
Guided by Voices Inc., 2012
6.7 / 10.0
If nothing else, Bob Pollard never sits still for long. After the reunification of the classic lineup of Guided By Voices following the Matador 21st birthday, new albums were being announced, diehard fans’ pants were being jizzed in, and GbV announced not one, not two, but three albums featuring Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Greg Demos, Kevin Fennell, and Mitch Mitchell. The January 1st release of Let’s Go Eat the Factory, gave me an opportunity to exorcise some of my GBV demons, lay my fanboy-ness out on the table, and level a few long simmering complaints at Pollard and company in the process. I won’t belabor the love/disappointment relationship I’ve had with the band, and which has been going on for the better part of two decades, but Class Clown Spots a UFO, album number two for the year is wildly inconsistent in and of itself and could not do a better job of illustrating just how maddening Guided by Voices can be.
Let’s Go Eat the Factory took a little digging and focused listening; GBV employed some keys and piano, certainly a new tool in the classic lineup’s repertoire, at least in its placement at front of the mix. Let’s Go… wound up being a big, brash rock and roll three ring circus of groovy guitar licks and brainworm hooks. While the songs were definitely a new direction for the old lineup, it was a massive success.
Class Clown Spots a UFO is even more instantly recognizable as a GBV record than this year’s predecessor. At its high points (and there are plenty, what with the 21 tracks here that induce an overwhelming sense of nostalgia all by itself) the album references some of the band’s greatest LPs- Vampire on Titus, Alien Lanes, and Pollard’s amazing solo debut, Not in My Airforce. The title track, a reworking of “Crocker’s Favorite Song” off 1995’s King Shit and the Golden Boys, sounds suspiciously but happily like the fan favorites “My Valuable Hunting Knife” and “Billy Wire”. “Roll of the Dice, Kick in the Head” could also just as easily been on Alien Lanes. “Tyson’s High School”, hopefully a new live show mainstay, is an unimpeachable, sludgy psych freakout, that brings to mind the mono-tastic Propeller album, arguably the beginning of the band’s ascent from basement hobby to full blown cult rock act.
Unfortunately, for every high point, there are several lows. While on the band’s best records, Pollard and the gang seemed to place a lot of thought into sequencing album tracks, that careful precision feels like it’s been tossed out the window on Class Clown…. Segues and song fragments come across as leaden and clunky. While there are few songs that go past two minutes, some of these snippets and one-offs still manage to hang around too long. Worst of all, Tobin Sprout’s usual sugary folk pop often falls flat (“They and Them”) or sickeningly sweet and precious (“Starfire”). In the end, Class Clown Spots a UFO ascends to some time-traveling victories, but just as often comes close to crashing and burning in some awfully deep valleys.