Guided By Voices’ frontman, and only consistent member in their over 30 year career, Robert Pollard, is one hardworking songwriter. The number of songs to his name is in the thousands, the number of albums in the dozens. In fact, dedicated fans of his output across an active solo project and multiple bands wonder if he even sleeps at all, as Guided By Voices is known to put at least one album a year. Sometimes two. However, this year, we are being spoiled by a rare three albums, confirmed by the band, and Zeppelin Over China is the first installment. Comprised of thirty-two tracks, reaching over an hour in length, and being only the second double-album in the band’s history (after 2017’s August By Cake), the album is a hot-off-the-blocks way to start the year.
To expect any major stylistic change in the GbV sound on their twenty-seventh full-length album would border on the absurd. All the characteristics that make GbV, well, GbV, are present in spades on Zeppelin Over China: one to two minute guitar pop songs, lyrics (only that Pollard could write) that are not worth the trouble of deciphering, and the usage of words fit for an intermediate-level spelling bee in titles, to name a few. Opening track “Good Morning, Sir” is as fine an example as any, with its crunchy staccato-note strumming intro so innate for this band and Pollard’s distinctive voice, all backed by a simple yet effective drum beat. “Carapace” may be the only song to ever exist with the refrain “turtle shell.” The opening seconds of “Send In the Suicide Squad” has a palpable Rush feel to it, which is supported by Pollard reaching into his upper register akin to Geddy Lee, proof that his voice has not degenerated through the years. Fans of the lo-fi GbV in the 90s will no doubt crack a smile at the easter egg hidden in “Cobbler Ditches”, a mention of “Motor Away”, one of the hit songs off 1995’s Alien Lanes. The grandest song on the album by far, though, is “You Own the Night”, which is the closest the band has ever gotten to true prog rock.
The whole album has cocky self-assuredness effect to it, as if ol’ Bob is telling us: “this is how this band sounds. Like it or not.” Most likely, that is in fact his attitude when it comes to writing Guided by Voices songs. It would be easy to make the argument that he has been writing almost the same song for the better part of this decade. However, with Pollard, it is the subtleties in his songs that make them memorable, not the overarching sound.
Let these be the parting words: Long live the Guided By Voices golden age.
Recommended If You Like: Pavement, Sebadoh, Built to Spill, The Replacements, R.E.M.
Recommended Tracks: 2 (Step of the Wave), 4 (Send In the Suicide Squad), 13 (The Rally Boys), 16 (You Own the Night), 23 (Lurk of the Worm), 25 (Where Have You Been All My Life), 31 (My Future In Barcelona)
Do Not Play: N/a
Written by Christian Lemesany on 02/09/2019