Swan song from prolific Dayton, Ohio combo, while frontman flies solo
If familiarity breeds only contempt, Robert Pollard and GBV should be despised more than most. In a little over 20 years, various incarnations and offshoots have yielded over 50 albums and more than a thousand songs. Now, Pollard has decided to focus completely on the solo career that began in 1996 with Not In My Airforce. Free of band baggage, he senses a new “maturity, and even integrity” in the air.
Of course, the curious paradox of the dissolution is that, far from appearing jaded, recent GBV works have been bursting with vitality and colour. Last year’s Earthquake Glue was arguably their best album since 1994’s critical breakthrough, Bee Thousand. So it’s the timing that makes the occasion of their 15th and final studio LP Half Smiles Of The Decomposed a genuine shock.
As a send-off, though, it’s not quite the full parade. Newcomers may not be persuaded to delve deeper into the back catalogue by the stodgy “Closets Of Henry” or aimless “Sing For Your Meat Leon”, but there’s enough golden rain for converts. The punkoid “Everybody Thinks I’m A Raincloud” sounds like the perfect minor chord marriage of The Raspberries and The Motors. “Sleep Over Jack” is a nervy wiggle of skinny-tie pop. “Never Have To Die” brilliantly highlights their USP: driving fuzz-pop, fat hooks, urgent choruses. Acid drops and Beat Boom chops filtered through the haze of America’s mid-’80s college scene and out into the knowing present.
Fiction Man, Pollard’s eighth solo outing, is a palpable release of pressure; bold, inventive, sonically daring. With GBV producer Todd Tobias laying down echo-dripping beds of noise, from the industrial (“I Expect A Kill”) to the string-delicate (“Conspiracy Of Owls”), this is wilfully experimental music that doesn’t forsake melodic muscle. In this respect, it’s probably closer to the explosive hiss of Bee Thousand or 1995’s Alien Lanes. It’s the sound of Pollard reconnecting with the accidental thrill and discovery of the past. At times, he’s like Barrett-era Floyd doing “White Light/White Heat”. Or Bowie fronting ’86 R.E.M. in Spacemen 3’s reverb chamber. Sonic boom music par excellence.