Guided By Voices - Motivational Jumpsuit

by Pete Super Rating:9 Release Date:2014-02-17

With music, as with male genitalia, we have the grower and we have the shower (show-er). Certain songs are an electric sugar-rush which instantly light your synapses and cause a blissed-out moronic smile to creep across your face (shower). Other songs worm their way in, revealing themselves over repeat listens until one day you find yourself impossibly in love with a song you initially had a lukewarm reaction to (grower). I've found over the years, the grower tends to hold it's own much longer than the shower. The shower tends to be a bit of a trifle in the long run, that initial rush of sugar has the problem of all stimulants: diminishing returns.

Aside from their most acclaimed and widely known work, Alien Lanes and Bee Thousand, most of the work of Guided By Voices and their leader Robert Pollard falls into the grower department. Not that they don't have their share of sugar rush songs, it's just that Guided By Voices' pop songs have an unlikely amount of grower in them as well. It seems most people who came to Guided By Voices via those seminal works haven't put in the time to let their output since then do the necessary growing. You can't really blame them; keeping up with Pollard is nearly a full-time job. Here is a songwriter who has put out nearly 50 records since his band broke up, including five by that very same band, and it's only been 10 years.

Most of the critical reviews of Pollard's work seem to revolve around an assessment based on the sheer volume of his output rather than the actual quality of it. I've seen a few reviews that state something to the effect of: If this were a record by a new band it would be considered brilliant, but since it's Bob's third this year, it's just okay. And then they give it a lukewarm rating. Have they even taken the time to give it a few spins or did they just decide on the way in that they knew what it was so the review wrote itself?

It's a tricky thing, I have found, to have a snap judgment or reaction to music that is accurate or can be sustained beyond your first listen. I'm finding it hard to write about a record I have now listened to five times. Have I done my work? Is my opinion fleshed out enough to share, to be relevant? I honestly don't know. 

What I do know: I am a pretty big fan of Guided By Voices. I have upwards of 150 Guided By Voices and related records. I have seen them live around 17 times. I have shook Bob's hand on three separate occasions in three different cities. I read the book, twice. I'm a little too old at this point to say I have a favorite anything, but if you were to press me on it I'd probably say GBV are the closest thing to a favorite band I have.

Guided By Voices are a phenomenon which expands and defines the true spirit of rock 'n' roll. I know not everything they've done has been an instant classic - I'm no sycophant - but this speaks to my larger point: Instant classics are basically myths. Most of the records that have stuck over the ages were not only given average review initially, but didn't sell too well either. A penchant for revisionist history in the music press elite would lead us to believe the accolades flowed freely and immediately for many on the Rolling Stone top 500, but this simply isn't the case. I have a back pocket full of examples but I don't want to litter this with citation; just take my word for it.

So how does Motivational Jumpsuit stack up? Is a contender for “classic” status? I think so, it's a dirty grower with a little flash of show happening as well. The opening track, 'Littlest League Possible', is yet another example of Pollard's acumen for packing an absurd amount of dynamic into a song not even one-and-a-half minutes long. This album shows the full range of Pollard's 'four P's' philosophy of rock songwriting (prog, pop, psych, punk). Motivational Jumpsuit tends to be leaning more toward the psych and pop. It's the recording aesthetic of a band content with the sound they get from the Tascam which prevails, so this is a crusty affair as far as fidelity. The aspirations to the shimmering crystalline production power-pop of Do the Collapse, Isolation Drills, and Half-Smiles of the Decomposed have been abandoned for this current incarnation of Guided By Voices, now minus drummer Kevin Fennell for equally hilarious and sad reasons.

The standard four or five Tobin Sprout compositions border on mid-fi and serve as the perfect foil to Pollard's bent-lost-tapes-of-Lennon/Barrett/Townsend-taking-acid-in-the-basement-one-weekend- assortment of songcraft. Spout's 'Record Level Love' is one of his finest. For Pollard, 'Difficult Outburst and Breakthrough', 'Planet Score', 'Save the Company', 'Zero Elasticity', 'Vote for Me Dummy', and 'Bulletin Borders' fill the grimy power-pop quota. 'Go Without Packing', 'A Bird With No Name', and 'Evangeline Dandelion' do the same for twisted psych/folk. Pollard saves the highest-fidelity pop confection for last in the form of 'Alex and the Omegas', which hits like a high-quality demo for Universal Truths and Cycles. The sonic hallmarks most apropos to sight for this record would be a cross between Vampire on Titus and Under the Bushes, Under the Stars.

One thing that strikes me is there is a very consistent energetic push from beginning to end. The sequencing is perfect as each track compliments and informs its companions. Playing like one great piece and clocking in at a perfect 37:37, it's a great reminder of how easily this group can toss out a classic rock record. This record only took three spins to get me all gushy about it, the other GBV 'classic reunion' records all took a little longer, with the exception of The Bears for Lunch ,which grabbed hold pretty quick.

This album is a grower by nature and design, but with enough sugar sprinkled throughout to make you want to go back in that third and fourth time. Pollard's aesthetic utilizes the imperfection in the method and turns it into act of grace. Take heed, youngsters; the master ain't finished by a long shot. And now to tie it all together, I will simply say: Growth achieved. Thank you, Bob.

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