After witnessing a particularly uninspired performance by a usually-pretty-good local band (who shall remain nameless), my friend Curtis turned to me and said “sounded like they were trying to phone it in long distance, but they forgot the number”. Such is the problem with Airport 5, the long-distance collaboration between Guided by Voices principal Bob Pollard and ex-GBV mainstay Tobin Sprout. The idea for the band is that Sprout composes music for the songs at his rural Michigan home, which he then mails to Pollard at GBV Central in Dayton, OH, who then overdubs vocals on top of Sprout’s instrumentals.
There are many problems with this sort of operation, and Airport 5 pretty much exhibits all of them. While, in his GBV days, Sprout was responsible for a few of the band’s most memorable cuts (revisit the masterful “A Good Flying Bird” or “Little Whirl” from Alien Lanes if you have your doubts), his solo work has been comparatively lackluster—relatively uninteresting, uninspired, generic indie pop. It seems that he needs the fire of a real rock and roll band to light a fire under his ass and motivate him to write great, memorable songs. The same applies to Pollard. While his relentless productivity is legendary to anyone with even the most basic knowledge of indie rock, what comes along with this is his seemingly complete inability to separate the wheat from the chaff in his work. When someone writes hundreds of songs a years, as Pollard reportedly does, there’s just no way that they’re all going to be worth hearing. Unfortunately, Pollard doesn’t seem to understand this, and feels the need to foist even the most dubious of his creations on his rabid fans, who slavishly collect every fart and whistle that the man produces.
A collaboration between Sprout and Pollard could have potentially produced some great material—if either part had actually spent some time in its creation. Unfortunately, what we end up with here is some typically uninteresting instrumental stuff from Sprout, which, unsurprisingly, recalls the stuff he’s done on his solo records, with Pollard spouting his typical nonsensical non sequiturs on top it. While Pollard has always specialized in completely batty, stream of consciousness lyrics, the stuff presented on Life Starts Here is obviously tossed-off and sub-par, especially when compared with the increasingly more coherent, much more personal work showcased on the last GBV record, the fabulous Isolation Drills. For the most part, his vocal melodies are half-assed and unmemorable as well, and save the chiming “Yellow Wife No. 5”, there’s just nothing here that stands even the remotest chance of getting stuck in your head. To add insult to injury, Pollard’s vocals and Sprout’s instrumentation simply do not mesh. Even if you had no idea that this was a long-ddistance collaboration, you’dbe able to tell that something was amiss in the creation of this project. Pollard simply lays his nonsensical rants on top of Sprout’s instrumental beds, with a seeming complete disregard for the flow of the songs. The result is jarring and unpleasant, and simply not worth bothering with.
While this project may have been fun for Sprout and Pollard, it sure as hell isn’t for the listener. A suggestion: boys, Michigan and Ohio aren’t that far away from each other. Bob, spring for a fucking plane ticket and visit your old pal face to face, and actually write some songs together. Perhaps then the results will actually be worth listening to. As it stands, Life Starts Here most definitely is not.