[29 May 2008]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
It is no surprise that Robert Pollard’s latest solo effort clocks in at around 35 minutes. What is surprising, though, is the fact that it takes him just 10 songs to get there. Rather than islandhopping around to as many snippets of sound as he can on his new album, Pollard settles into these songs and builds them out. This makes for not only some of his longest post-GBV offerings, but also some of his best.
There is a charm to the way Pollard approaches his career. He, particularly of late, doesn’t take it too seriously and spends his time building a huge collection of albums that he wants to make. Often, they are oddball affairs, and they all have their share of Pollard’s goofy nature, but many of them don’t hold much interest for anyone else. Pollard makes music for himself, which can be a good thing, but when he’s the only one who can listen to it, well, that is not such a good thing.
And while he shouldn’t take himself too seriously, there’s nothing wrong with getting down to the business of being a songwriter. Records can be fun and carefully crafted and even serious all at the same time, and Pollard seems to have remembered that fact on Robert Pollard Is Off to Business. These songs have a presence and heft to them that much of his recent output has lacked. This may be due, in no small part, to Todd Tobias’ role as producer and multi-instrumentalist on the album. This is easily his best work yet. Where so often his production has sounded murky and amateurish—not lo-fi—on past releases, this is his warmest and most inviting sound yet.
Pollard also seems to have realized that he can have variety on his albums without packing them full of short bits of filler. The warm, classic-rock crunch of “The Original Heart” starts the album off with a punch, and shows that Pollard hasn’t forgotten how to weave his love for the Who into his own off-kilter brand of power-pop. “The Blondes” is a big ol’ rock ballad, and perhaps his best arrangement since “Edison’s Memos”. There’s also the punk-tinged, infectious punch of “1 Year Old” and the five-minute-plus “Weatherman and Skin Goddess”, which melds Britpop with arena rock and makes for the best track on the album.
These songs show Pollard’s best effort yet at tackling different genres in his songs. Instead of the ham-handed borrowing that goes on in his side-projects, he filters his wide swath of influences through his own uncanny knack for melody. He doesn’t try to make a psychedelic song here, or a punk song, or craft a rock opera. What he does is give us ten Robert Pollard songs, with those elements weaved throughout, the way he used to with GBV and his best solo stuff on Matador, before all the side projects watered down the quality.
Of course, Pollard doesn’t lose his goofy side in all this variety. He dips his vocals into his newly found cartoony bass briefly on “The Blondes”. And there is a song here called “Confessions of a Teenage Jerk-off”. But Pollard uses a light comic touch on the album, making the humor not only tolerable but actually effective. Robert Pollard Is Off to Business is a great return to form for Pollard. It has songs just as strong as anything on his Merge releases, but by living in these songs a little longer, this album feels more rooted and permanent than, for example, Standard Gargoyle Decisions. As the first full release for his new record label, Guided by Voices, Inc., this album is the start of a new era for Pollard. And if this album is a sign of what’s to come, then Pollard’s long-time fans should rejoice.
The club is open once again.