Guided By Robert Pollard

Guided By Voices
Sweating the Plague


2019

by Propellerless

“It was twenty years ago today”,
actually, it was 20 years and two months ago that Guided By Voices
released their Big Rock Album, “Do The Collapse”.

Even though I jumped aboard in 1995 with “Alien Lanes”
and preferred the older stuff,
I enjoyed “Do The Collapse” and hoped for its success.
So much that I bought 10 copies to give out as gifts.

I’ve always wondered where Bob and the band would be today,
if “Do The Collapse” was the monster hit it should have been.

Just Imagine,
A drunken stage rant from Robert Pollard at an I Heart Radio Festival,
because his 15 minutes were up and JayZ got twenty-five.

It’s like that movie, “The Butterfly Effect”,
you change one thing and there is a ripple effect,
that changes everything.
I’m really happy how everything turned out,
look at all the great music Bob has made in the past 20 years.

Perhaps it wasn’t meant to happen,
and you want to know the truth, I glad.
I was somewhat torn at the time,
I’ve seen in just about every case, a band being ruined by success.

Here we are twenty years later and Guided By Voices has just
released their 28th album, “Sweating the Plague” which is touted as
their Big Rock Album.

“Do The Collapse”, because it was made for a big label, TVT,
there were many compromises.
With Ric Ocasick (RIP) producing, he gave GBV a big sound,
maybe a little too clean and gimmicky for GBV.
Ocasick also enforced a “no drinking” edict.

With “Sweating the Plague”, there is no record label to make demands.
and I’m sure producer Travis Harrison allowed the band to drink in the studio.

Travis Harrison has been working as producer on the current line-ups
six albums.
One of the things Harrison has been doing on the current albums is
mixing Bob’s demos with the band recordings.

Unlike the five albums the band recorded with Harrison prior to
“Sweating the Plague”, in which the band recorded the music in one studio
and Pollard recorded his vocals elsewhere,
The whole band including Pollard recorded “Sweating the Plague” in New York,
I think this really adds to the power of the band and Pollards performance somehow.

Musician-wise, this current line-up is tightest, most talented, so far.
But when it comes to performing the old classics,
they can loosen up enough to sound like the old band.
I saw this current line-up live and they convincingly go from
Bob’s more complicated numbers to the older songs.
All while staying faithful to the originals.

Being Doug Gillard and Kevin March are in this line-up,
it would be only natural to think the band would sound like the 2000’s
version of GBV of which, both were members.
But what I hear on their six recent albums, including “Sweating the Plague”,
seems to be more of a reflection of “Under The Bushes Under The Stars”.

Lots of that trademark GBV rhythm guitar pounding away on the downstroke,
and I like how this line-up incorporates more Psych and Prog into the music,
than past line-ups.

The best bands,
have a drummer and bass player who work together to lock into a groove,
which Mark Shue and Kevin March do very well,
add the rhythm guitar of Bobby Bare Jr. working with them,
and you have magic.

That’s what we get on the first track “Downer”.

I used to be a big fan of Gang Of Four, particularly their album,
“Solid Gold” and the song, “He’ll Send in The Army”.
There was a live performance of the movie “Urgh A Music War”.

On it, the guitarist Andy Gill was doing a lot of choppy strumming
on his guitar and deadening the strings, I love that sound!
They do that all over “Downer”.

I love how the guitars go from speaker to speaker and
the backwards masking that becomes part of the rhythm.

One great thing about this album is, the songs have a chance to grow.
Most GBV albums have opening songs that usually clock in at about a minute.
“Downer” chugs in like a train at three minutes, thirteen.

“Street Party”, which was one of the original titles for the album,
(I glad Bob changed it), is a Glitter Rock Gem!
At first listen, I liked it,
but I’m really very surprised how I like it more every listen.
Might be a good song for a single, very catchy.

With “Mother's Milk Elementary” we get into the meat of the album.
It begins with Bob singing a cappella, sort of a Rally Song,
and in comes the GBV rhythm section.

Then out of nowhere we are flung into Pepperland,
with some sort of brass band, then a John Lennon two-finger
piano thing.

Really got to hand it to Producer Travis Harrison,
On this song and a few others, there are a quite a few tight edits
within the song.

“Heavy Like The World”, which was released as a single,
really sounds to me like radio-friendly Guided By Voices.
And I’m not kidding when I say that,
this song would really go down smoothly on the radio.

Though I like “Teenage FBI” and “Hold On Hope” (yes I do),
I always thought they were a little “quirky” for radio audiences at the time.
Maybe if it were the late 70’s, they would fit in more with, “Whip It”,
“My Best Friend’s Girl” and “My Sharona”.

While “Heavy Like The World” sounds cool anytime with its Superchunk vibe.

Like with most GBV songs,
you can’t just listen to the first couple of seconds and know where the song is going.
“Ego Central High” starts off as a cool mid-tempo rocker,
then a little more than halfway the song changes.
All I’ve got to say is this is a freakin great song.

“The Very Second” starts off with acoustic guitars,
then builds into a full band rocker.

I played “Tiger on Top” for my friend Mike over the phone,
to see what he thought of it.
Mike is a bass player and a big prog fan,
and he has about 15 various GBV releases.

I played the whole thing with no interruptions.

He said two things,
“Bob is amazing”
and
“R.E.M. sucks”

I asked him why?

He said that Guided By Voices is really what R.E.M. should have become,
but didn’t.

I was really a fan of the I.R.S. era of the band.
But now thinking about it,
the great thing about those records, were not so much the records themselves,
but the promise of how great the band and their albums could become.
And never did.

Some fans don’t like these weirder, or progier moments,
Not me, I’m always there waiting for this stuff,
that why I thought “How Do You Spell Heaven” was such a great album.

I live for stuff like “Mother's Milk Elementary”, “Tiger on Top”
and “Sons of the Beard”.

“Unfun Glitz” is another choppy guitar rocker.
The bands playing is very tight, which is very evident in the pauses within the song.
Would fit great on rock radio.

Bob, who is turning 62 October 31st,
shows absolutely no sign of slowing down,
his voice is stronger than ever.

“Your Cricket Is Rather Unique”, may sound familiar to fans,
a demo of the song appeared on “Suitcase Four: Captain Kangaroo Won The War”
as “Your Cricket Is Rather Unique (Christmas Girl)”.
“Christmas Girl” is a song from Boston Spaceships last album, “Let It Beard”,
which has the same basic riff as “Your Cricket”,
but which came first?

Drummer Kevin March sings lead on this Pollard song,
he even sings it like Pollard, who sang the original, but adds his touch to it.

The whole production is a blanket of electric guitars with producer
Travis Harrison pounding away on the drums for this track.
Harrison had earlier played drums on Pollards side project “ESP Ohio”.

The magic in is the mix.
There is all sorts of stuff flying around in that mix.
Psychedelic!

“Immortals” is a swinging rocker,
Bob sequenced this album perfectly,
because around the middle of the song, the mood changes,
which seems to signal that we are coming to the end of the album.

As the music fades out, Bobs voice is alone for a second.
I really think it would have been better if Bob would have sung
another measure a cappella.

“My Wrestling Days Are Over”,
is sort of like one of those acoustic numbers from “Mag Earwhig!”,
then goes into this weird prog mellotron sounding thing,
which I happen to dig,
Then suddenly the band comes in playing the same note over and over while cheering,
and the song ends.

That didn’t go where I was expecting.
I thought it would go in a different direction.

So, when the last song, the gentle acoustic “Sons of the Beard” comes on,
I thought, well this is a different way to end an album,
instead of the usual rock song.

As the song progresses, I’m thinking,
“Please go beyond a minute and a half”,
I really had hopes the song would go for a big finish
and not just end, like the last song.
as the song approached 2:00 it’s looking like a fade.

I’m thinking, Great album,
but really a disappointing ending.

But wait, a few more strings plunked,
What’s this, a Moog?
Why bring it in now, if the song is over?

The whole time I’m thinking,
“Please don’t end!” while the guitar plays three chords,
which sounds like the end to me.

Then in comes Doug on the electric guitar!!!
Yeahhh this is the way it should end, and it is!
The rest of the song is Guided By Voices at their best,
with Bob bringing in an excellent vocal.

The song ends with the band doing that thing the Who do
before the main sequence of “A Quick One, While He's Away”.
then acoustic guitars.

Then the albums ends as it begins,
hitting the strings at the bottom of the guitar.

What an Excellent album.
The last song, “Sons of the Beard”, reminds me of side two of
Janes Addictions album, “Ritual De Lo Habitual”.
I thought they were a cool band,
but the second side of that album,
really impressed me more than anything they did before.

My thought was “This is what rock music should be”.

I feel the same about this album,
I would feel confident in giving this album to someone
who has never heard of Guided By Voices.

Some would say it doesn’t represent their lo-fi sound,
though that was one of the things that originally attracted me to the band,
most people get scared off by it.

The trick is to get the listeners with an album that is easier for them to swallow,
then hope that they fall into the Guided By Voices Rabbit Hole.

With “Sweating the Plague”, Guided By Voices gets a Big Rock production,
without compromising their basic sound and expanding on the “Four “P’s”.

I haven’t bought 10 copies yet,
but I gave one away.

A+ if there were a higher grade, I’d give it.