REVIEW: Guided By Voices - Class Clown Spots A UFO

Blah, blah, blah, Robert Pollard is really prolific. If I had a dollar for ever record he’s ever recorded, I would have enough money to buy a really nice stereo component system to play them. This record, Class Clown Spots a UFO, is not going to win any new fans, and he still sounds like the Who for the 90s. Blah, blah! Like always, his songs are short (the length of Pollard’s compositions is akin to a kid skipping whip-its and starting out on speedballs: why mess around with verses and middle 8s when you can just write chorus over and over again?). Blah, blah, blah! Songs alternate between revved up rock n’ roll to intimate, close-miked psychedelic confessions.  Fuck it! Let’s try to imagine that this old dog and his newly reconstituted “classic” Guided by Voices haven’t performed this trick a million times. Oh, who am I kidding?

This is the same old Pollard, and part of the fun of being a GBV fan is that he was a school teacher from Dayton who recorded albums on his basement four track with his friends. He has no business being a “rock star,” which is precisely why he was so needed. But those days are over. What with Band Camp and Facebook, we are probably never going to see another obsessive fan rewriting the Who’s A Quick One over and over for just his buddies to hear, only to stumble into indie rock stardom though true talent and no, ahem, music website hype.  

How Pollard manages to write so many great choruses while simultaneously serving up so many half-baked ideas is a mystery. But so what? It’s worth wading through the filler for the pure sugar rush of songs like “I am a Scientist,” “Motor Away,” “Bulldog Skin,” “Teenage FBI” and “Glad Girls.” In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to sift through all of crap, and I would just buy a deluxe 10 lp vinyl box set of his best songs over his thirty-year career. It would probably be the best record since Pete Townsend blew out his hearing (and song writing ability) on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. In my mind’s eye, the box set would also feature a hologram of Pollard doing his karate kick: there’s really nothing better than a 50-something Ohioan drunk on his millionth Budweiser singing like he’s a nine-year-old in his bedroom with a broom for a guitar (check out GBV doing “Motor Away” on the Jon Stewart Show in the mid-90s, complete with Pollard in a sports jacket with the tags still on it, for one of the best examples).

Are there any songs on this record that make it onto that hoped for 10 vinyl lp box set? Yes!  Old Bob has a humdinger with “Keep It in Motion.” It’s not the sort of raucous GBV track that I usually prefer. Hell, I don’t even hear many guitars. But it has a soothing call and response vocals, which contrasts nicely with Pollard’s normally metallic voice, backed up by some subtle synthesizer playing. This is new wave GBV par excellence.

Other highlights abound: “Class Clown Spots a UFO,” which has a nice bopping rhythm and a fuzzy giant steps guitar melody. There’s some nice drum fills, especially before and after a brief a cappella part. The song ends in a flourish with all of the elements rotating back to a crescendo, complete with dueling vocal lines. “All of This Will Go,” written and sung by Tobin Sprout, has weaved together vocals and sparkling arpeggios; it’s nearly two minutes of shatnez-free gold that could have been forged in 1966. The last track, “No Transmission,” has a Wedding Present-like opening, all driving guitars played at a blurry, reckless speed.

Jack Black recently was asked why he loved cheesy 80’s hair metal. He said “what I appreciate is the [the] glory.” This is the indie-rock equivalent. Thank God for Bob keeping the rock flame alive.