Circus Devils - Laughs Last - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Circus Devils - Laughs Last

by Kevin Orton Rating:9 Release Date:2017-02-24

I have a love/hate relationship with Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard. He is so relentlessly prolific, it’s impossible to keep up with him. But there is so much good stuff among the flotsam and jetsam of his blazing path of creativity, it’s impossible to ignore. Such is the case of his latest moniker, Circus Devils and the album, Last Laughs.

“Get of my way, when I’m in town”, Pollard warns to the tune of 'Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe’. Let it serve as a public service announcement for another remotely satisfying Robert Pollard release that may or may not be lost in the bric-a-brac shop of his vast, seemingly endless career. It’s a hoarder’s paradise on offer and one can all too easily get lost and never find their way out again.

 ‘Philosophy Bag’ is the kind of number you can take or leave. ‘7X35 POW’ is the kind of thing he does all too well. It’s hard to resist but there’s already so much like it on the shelf it’s hard to say whether you’ve heard it before or not. ‘Now you’re having fun,’ Pollard croons and then it’s all over too soon with a bang, not a whimper. ‘Teenage Rooster’ is the musical equivalent of an old man screaming at the kids on his lawn. Its cantankerous, catchy and not likely to make you hit the play button repeatedly. Which recalls Pollard’s Achilles heel. Being so endlessly prolific, how much of it goes in one ear and how much of it sticks?

Who can resist a number entitled, ‘Alice Cooper Alarm Clock’? But it's little more than aimless ambience. “Are you willing to listen?” he declares on ‘End of the World Ice Cream’. The answer is yes, but the question remains, is Pollard really saying anything or just amusing himself at the listener’s expense? In this case, there is indeed a message and Pollard’s habit of stabbing in the dark hits pay dirt. File it away with all the others marked "good" in the Robert Pollard sonic warehouse.

‘I Do The Nixon’ is a pleasant piece of surrealistic satire guaranteed not to change the world. It’s more of an idea than a song proper. Which is to be expected from an artist who deliberately deals in the audio equivalent of waded up scraps of paper. Meanwhile, ‘Smoke Machine’ is the kind of stadium rocker Pollard can write in his sleep. ‘Time Trapper’ however, is a somber meditation of real beauty, reminiscent of Bee Thousand’s ‘The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory’. ‘Crucified By the British Press’ takes the same riff and forges one of Laughs Last’s most memorable and coherent offerings.

‘Mr. Detail’s Explanation’ offers none and is another scrap warming up the stage for the next tune, the effortlessly gorgeous, ‘Farm Action.’ And if ‘In Gear’ and ‘Whiskey Cockroach’ come off as filler, ‘To Each His Own (Sunshine Baby Butt) is Pollard at his most quirky and irresistible. Despite the arbitrary sounding title, it’s a standout track. “You’re not the sunshine baby butt, I’m not the weatherman,” Pollard croons. Behind the curious wordplay, what you have is a honest to goodness love song.

On ‘Asteroid’ the haunting closing track, Pollard confesses, “I am nothing if not free,” and nothing could be more true of this restless, mercurial force of nature. Yet, one is left with the nagging sense of having heard all this before. As impressively prolific as Pollard no doubt is, his records tend to be hit or miss. And such is the case here. And maybe that’s Pollard’s intent. After all, were are living in the post album/download age. So who fan fault Pollard for getting all his hens out? If this is indeed the case, then its up to the fans to arrange things on the shelf to their liking.



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