His career in Guided By Voices now two decades old, Bob Pollard has, for most of that time, reigned as indie rock's resident Captain Do-No-Wrong. The guy spits out records with the nonchalance (and frequency) of ballplayers heaving chaw. But if you believe his fans and starry-eared critics, every single release gleams with the faerie dust of his melodic genius -- and the more unpolished the surrounding arrangements, production, etc., the better to marvel at its twinkle. C'mon. Thomas Edison may have invented the light bulb, the phonograph and the movie camera, but he also did some less-noted work on fruit preservation and the best possible way to break rocks. Even geniuses have off days -- particularly when they stray from what they do best.
So, at the risk of coming off like the kid at spring break who complains about the beer, we'll just say it: The Pollard party may be running out of steam. Although last year's Universal Truths and Cycles was a welcome return to sprightly GBV form -- uncluttered, energetic rock springing the occasional time-signature surprise -- the new album, Earthquake Glue, is darker and weightier. The songwriting is ur-Cheap Trick, if Cheap Trick had decided to become a prog-rock band. Thing is, you can't toss off a Dark Side of the Moon or an OK Computer -- that shit takes time. And taking his time is not Pollard's bag. It's therefore hard to say whether Earthquake Glue required more perspiration, or less: The songs seem overdetermined yet underdeveloped. Transitions are awkward. There's too much lyrical enjambment. The songs get kinda same-y (a longtime GBV complaint from the naysayers). Yes, of course, the melodies are there; they always are. But where you want the songs to take amplified flight, they sag instead. It's like watching a ballet dancer with a beer gut. Members of the Pollard cult will, of course, love this album anyway.