Already trumping Deep Purple for lineup changes, Robert Pollard announced Mark XXXVII.2 of Guided By Voices would rise again this summer at the Sled Island Music & Arts Festival. New recruits Bobby Bare, Jr. and Mark Shue will be joined by Pollard and cohorts Kevin March (Guided By Voices, Ricked Wicky) and Nick Mitchell (Ricked Wicky) when the band is scheduled to headline the four-day event this June in Calgary.
While speculation abounds about a new Guided By Voices album and future tour dates, the pressing matter at hand is Of Course You Are, Pollard’s latest solo album. Spending the bulk of 2015 preoccupied with the aforementioned Ricked Wicky and the band’s three albums, Pollard released only one tome under his own name last year: the mid-fi Faulty Superheroes.
At his best when working with a new muse, Pollard has tapped Mitchell to serve in the role formerly held by the likes of Tobin Sprout, Todd Tobias and Doug Gillard. Shouldering the musical load by playing all instruments, Mitchell adheres to Pollard’s “Four Ps” ethos, packing Of Course You Are with pop, prog, psych and punk. Coming out swinging with British Invasion guitars on opener “My Daughter Yes She Knows”, chugging hookworm “Little Pigs” finds Pollard, at 58, sounding spry as ever.
Adding orchestral flourishes on “Come and Listen”, Mitchell casts Pollard as Genesis-era Peter Gabriel in the role of stage manager for a prog reboot of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, while Pollard channels Vincent Price on a bender, intoning “I’m choosing it / Checking what I drank / What I found / Like taking acid / Running naked through the town / Climbing houses / Don’t try to talk me down” over psychedelic baroque touches applied to “Losing It”.
Given his previous output, it’s nearly impossible to escape Pollard’s past. Recalling the crunch and bombast of 2007’s Standard Gargoyle Decisions with “Long Live Instant Pandemonium”, a bludgeoning missive of arena-ready rock that should be indelibly inked as the opening song on any future live date. Where “That’s the Way You Gave it to Me” would sidle nicely into Guided By Voices’s TVT output, the bleary-eyed slog of “Promo Brunette” could have been a deep cut on any Pollard solo album from the last decade. As if signaling a sequel to 1998’s Waved Out, the sci-fi folk of “Contemporary Man (He Is Our Age)” should shoehorn its way into any disarmed settler’s top 50/100/150 Pollard songs.
Responsible for bedroom imitators galore, Pollard is both touchstone and demigod. Having turned on a new generation to the Beatles via musical osmosis, Pollard subsequently championed their made-for-TV rivals the Monkees. Once proclaiming Mickey Dolenz as “maybe the best American singer”, the greatest slight against Pollard, who has been eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 2011, may be not being asked to contribute a song to the forthcoming Monkees album, Good Times!, leaving the likes of Rivers Cuomo, Ben Gibbard and Noel Gallagher to commemorate the group’s half-century of song.
Considering the bubblegum pop that could have been, Pollard continues to stretch the boundaries of his own musical universe. When so inclined, nobody does Pollard better than Pollard. Under Mitchell’s helm, the 12-song Of Course You Are is a succinct reminder of Pollard’s lyrical penmanship. As the originator of the Guided By Voices name, Pollard has every right to revive the brand in whatever fashion he sees fit. While the fluid lineup of his band may diminish its chances of enshrinement, Pollard’s DIY middle finger — raised decades prior — will stand firm for years to come.