The question “How much is too much?” is one lots of people might ask themselves when approaching the catalog of Robert Pollard and his band of lo-fi royalty, Guided By Voices. Since reuniting the so-called classic lineup for Matador’s 21st birthday in 2010, the band has toured the world, bringing back to the stage their short bursts of rock laid down on four-track recorders in Ohio basements over cases of Miller Lite and cartons of an undetermined cigarette brand. Since disbanding the mighty GBV in 2004, Pollard has released 16 solo albums and 7” singles apiece, alongside five EPs, five albums from his already disbanded yet rather excellent Boston Spaceships project, and so many other quote-unquote “side projects” that it got a little tiring to keep track of a man whose former full time gig only dropped roughly a full length a year and maybe a single or three.
Today, his work ethic of the last decade rubbed seems off on his former band mates, who hadn’t cut an album together since 1996’s thunderous Under The Bushes Under The Stars. Guided By Voices have already released two albums this year - January’s comeback hodgepodge Let’s All Go Eat The Factory and June’s future classic Class Clown Spots A UFO - and now the beer guzzling and chain smoking over short bursts of pop songs continues on their third and final album of 2012, The Bears For Lunch.
What would surprise the casual GBV listener, not the diehard fan who pre-ordered all of their 2012 releases and even tracked down a copy of 2005’s Acid Ranch’s As Forever, is that they still continue to make great, catchy rock anthems. And although the songs released as advanced singles unfortunately are the strongest songs, the ones that you can comfortably put together on a playlist for a new fan alongside “Tractor Rape Chain” and “Cut-Out Witch”, it doesn’t mean the other songs aren’t the worst things they’ve done. Sure, there’s the legitimate fodder (the :35 second “Smoggy Boy” sounds like a piece from the scrap heap,) but you do have the surprise of Pollard, alongside axe men MItch Mitchell and Tobin Sprout, churning out catchy tracks that you’ll be singing and fisting pumping to in your car or with your friends at a BBQ.
They spent the summer playing the thunderous “The Hangover Child” in concert, a song built around the recurring marching beat of Kevin Fennell’s drum kit, and it only gets better on record with an additional layer of simple strings. “She Lives In An Airport” and “White Flag” touch on previous eras and incarnations of GBV, and while they may threaten to seem like a rehash at times, ultimately they come off as fresh and true. Pollard proves that his vocal harmonies haven’t been hampered by the number of smokes he consumes in a three-hour show as the guitars gallop around the track on “Finger Gang”, and there’s no escaping the fact that the Buck-burning closer “Everywhere Is Miles From Everywhere” is the most R.E.M. sounding material GBV has laid down on tape since their first EP, Forever Since Breakfast, way back in 1996.
What might be the strongest portion of this Lunch meal, and actually the entire catalog of reunion releases, are Sprout’s contributions. Having more songs per album side in 2012 than he did in 1994, his little ditties really hold it all together and working as a refreshing palate cleanser to Pollard’s gristle. Songs like “Waving At Airplanes” and “The Corners Are Growing” bring welcome relief and new reasons to be excited about a future of the impending multitude of GBV albums that surely will happen in 2013. “Walking Up The Stars,” a country tinged, acoustic romp that is the best song here with Sprout finger picking on his six string sounding nothing like anything GBV could have ever done in their bedrooms and basements 20 years ago.
It’s certainly not the best GBV album - it’s even not the best album they made this year - but The Bears For Lunch will be one the legion of fans keep talking about. That is, until they release English Little League next spring.