Guided By Voices - Please Be Honest - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Guided By Voices - Please Be Honest

by Sean Hewson Rating:7 Release Date:2016-04-22
Guided By Voices, like The Fall and The Ex, have rewritten the rule book. After more than 30 years they are still regularly putting out new records with no real dip in quality. What's different on Please Be Honest is that Robert Pollard is the only band member - he plays everything.
 
In recent reviews, I have been whinging about the lack of interesting (or even good) song-writing on the records I've been reviewing. Having listened to Please Be Honest, I now suspect that this is because Robert Pollard has written all the songs already. Over 15 songs, in just over half an hour, Pollard gets through more than 100 new ideas. Each song picks up and discards pop hooks and weirdness from line to line; the songs change pace, key and time signature (sometimes by accident). It’s quite like the post-acid, song-writing of Arthur Lee, Syd Barrett and Brian Wilson at the end of the ‘60s. Or The Teardrop Explodes on Kilimanjaro. Melodies don’t always resolve quickly like in proper pop music, sometimes they just meander around a bit. It must be impossible to learn these songs so maybe it is easier without a band. The lyrics are similarly intriguing/confusing. I understand very little of what Pollard is saying but he has a very distinctive voice as a writer (someone clever should devise an on-line GBV title generator).
One of Guided By Voices' strengths has been taking pop tunes and making them weird (or taking weirdness and making it melodic). Please Be Honest is no exception. It's a very strange album in parts. Two songs - The Grasshopper Eaters and Nightmare Jamboree - end with just one chord being played for about a minute. It's like a Syd Barrett out-take. On I Think A Telescope there is a double-tracked finger-picking part that appears to suddenly get delayed on one track, putting it out of sync with the guitar on the other track. It's hard to tell if it is intentional or a mistake. And Please Be Honest is a very intimate record with the mistakes left in. On The Quickers Arrive you can hear Pollard breathing. On Hotel X (Big Soap) the drums just about hold it together right up to the end when they go out of time during a drum roll. The click track is still audible on I Think A Telescope. My favourite is the 34 second, Daniel Johnston-like, Sad Baby Eyes, which is just a ropey vocal and some ropey piano playing ending with the line 'Doom and gloom on a secondhand piano'. I like this slightly ramshackle, slightly odd feeling. It's charming. As with the music and the lyrics, it pulls you in, but also keeps you at a distance.
Over the course of this record Robert Pollard shows off his range as a song-writer with weird songs, noisy songs, acoustic songs, electric songs and some that are combinations of all of the above. He also shows off both his strengths and his limitations as a multi-instrumentalist. Sometimes inspired (the crashing, Interstellar Overdrive-like, guitar work on Nightmare Jamboree), sometimes a bit crap (some of the drumming) and sometimes quite like an idiot savant. What is indisputable is that Robert Pollard's distinctive way with a tune and a lyric is, thankfully, showing no signs of drying up.

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